FREEPORT — After initially rejecting a proposal to create a local chamber of commerce, the Freeport Merchants Association was expected to vote Wednesday to continue discussions with a task force studying the chamber’s benefits.
If the FMA board approves the proposal, it would result in the creation of the Freeport Chamber Alliance, a merger of FMA and the Freeprt Economic Development Corp. FMA would provide enhanced marketing services, and FEDC would provide assistance to new businesses or those wishing to expand.
If the proposal is rejected, the task force would design an alternative plan excluding FMA.
According to Sande Updegraph, executive director of the FEDC and an FMA board member, the two groups are in “a negotiation stage.”
“We are finding more common ground than uncommon ground,” she said. “It looks like some concerns have been resolved and discussions will be rekindled.”
Tim Paul, president of the FMA board of directors, said the 13-member group is not against the creation of a chamber.
“FMA is certainly not opposed to a chamber and we look forward to the opportunity to partner together to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “But the model proposed was not accepted.”
As proposed, a yearly fee of $325 would provide businesses with a basic Chamber Alliance membership including business services, cooperative purchasing of health insurance, networking capabilities, promotional and advertising opportunities and educational benefits.
For an additional fee ranging from $165 to $3,430 depending on the businesses’ annual income, members could participate in an optional marketing program.
Town Manager Dale Olmstead said discussions between the task force and the FMA board could continue for the next few months.
“The task force will continue to work to create changes to the model that will provide FMA with comfort,” he said. “We want FMA and FEDC to participate. Together, we will be a better, stronger organization.”
He said the creation of a chamber will have no impact on the municipal operating budget, because money to support the chamber could come from existing tax increment funding.
Updegraph said while the creation of a chamber would create networking opportunities for businesses and provide political advocacy in Augusta, the benefits would also trickle down to residents.
“The whole purpose of economic development in Freeport is to provide a business climate where more taxes are paid by businesses than by residents,” she said. “The big benefit of a strong and stable business climate is taxes.”
She said the goal is to increase the 30 percent of taxes paid by business and lower the 70 percent of taxes paid by residents.
“The creation of a chamber will help lower the residential contribution of taxes because it will attract new businesses and strengthen the existing businesses in Freeport,” she said.
The chamber task force is expected to meet Thursday, Feb. 12.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.