City eliminates funding to Booneville Chamber of Commerce

By LENA MITCHELL / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BOONEVILLE – The Booneville Area Chamber of Commerce will need to find other resources to fill a large budget hole after the city board eliminated funding for the agency from its 2010-2011 budget.
The agency was receiving $3,780 per month from the city of Booneville until the cut, which amounted to an annual allocation of about $45,000.
The chamber already dealt with one cut when its payment was reduced by 10 percent in January from $4,200 per month after the city board reduced city employee salaries 10 percent to help with a cash flow crisis.
“The board made the decision to lower funding for the chamber, but did agree to provide free office space and utilities, a significant amount of money right there,” said Mayor Joe Eaton. “I had asked the board to consider giving them two years on a prorated basis to have the opportunity to become self-sufficient that way, but they were ready with their decision and followed through with it.”
Eaton said in addition to it being a long-standing goal for the chamber to become self-sufficient in its funding, city board members had received feedback from their constituents and decided to proceed with the action.
Unfortunately, chamber board President Leigh Ann Michael said the chamber did not receive any comments from the community to indicate any level of dissatisfaction with the chamber’s performance.
“I was just as shocked as I could be,” Michael said. “We have more membership in the chamber than recent years, but they told us at the end of September there would be no further support, with no explanation. They have agreed that we could stay in the building and they would continue to pay the utilities, but there is no money to promote or plan any future activities.”
The amount of the chamber’s total annual budget was not available, but in addition to funding from the city, the agency operates on memberships, fundraising events and donations.
This weekend’s Fall Festival is the chamber’s biggest event of the year, and other events include the Fourth of July Celebration, Christmas parade and a Miss Hospitality pageant.
Though they do not generate direct financial support for the chamber, the Booneville Main Street program and Hometown Retirement Mississippi certified retirement community programs are administered by the chamber.
Both programs offer the city access to free training, technical support and promotion, and draw tourism interest.
Earlier this year the city made a proposal to take over the Main Street program from the chamber, a move that was rejected, but recently questions have arisen over whether the city might lose its retirement community certification.
Mississippi Main Street Northern District Director Sam Agnew said an assessment is under way but is not yet complete on the Main Street program.
Diana O’Toole, program manager for Community Development and Retiree Attraction in the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division, also said she is unable to comment on the status of Booneville’s retirement program at this time.
“The chamber’s role is to bring people here and to provide services and support for our downtown businesses,” Michael said. “You have to have a vision to plan activities for people to stop here. Without (the city’s) money it puts a little damper on activities, and it saddens me that they do not see how vital a chamber of commerce is to the city. We will really have to depend on the community to help us present our events.”

Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.