Town To Continue Chamber Funding

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Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton made a low-key plea for town funding, despite bleak budget projections for 2009-10.

The chamber had asked for $48,000 to underwrite the operation of a visitors center, but at last week’s budget study session, Stanton quickly accepted the same payment from the town as this year — $36,000.

“I’m happy with anything,” said Stanton, “but $36,000 is exactly what I want.”

The discussion solidified the transformation of the once turbulent relationship between the town and the chamber. Several years ago, the town cut off all funding for the chamber amidst political infighting and complaints that the town wasn’t getting enough in return for its annual subsidy. The town contributed nothing to the chamber’s budget for two years, before resuming payments last year.

Stanton took pains to portray the town’s contribution as a payment for services rendered — specifically the operation of a visitors center in the chamber’s office, which this year handled a 9 percent increase in visits by tourists, visitors and people considering relocating homes or businesses.

Last month, for instance, 1,440 people stopped by the chamber office, where the mostly volunteer staff also fielded 147 phone calls and provided information packets to 31 people considering a move to the area and 116 tourists.

All told, volunteers have donated some 5,540 hours to the chamber’s visitor information office. Some national organizations say the hours contributed by volunteers should be valued at about $18 an hour — which means community members donated more than $100,000 worth of time to the operation, said Stanton.

The chamber has forged close ties with the town since Stanton’s appointment two years ago, following a period of conflict.

The chamber has worked closely with the town in staging and publicizing a growing list of special events, many instigated by Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis.

However, the close ties between the town and the chamber have also spurred some controversy, most notably when the chamber canceled its longtime agreement with the mostly volunteer Pro Rodeo Committee, in favor of a new Rodeo Preservation Alliance, heavily influenced by town officials.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Tuesday emphasized that the payments to the chamber represent a payment for services rendered, not a subsidy.

The point gained special emphasis in the discussion last week as the council silently absorbed the budget plan that would further cut contributions to other community organizations.

The previous town council had decided to phase out budget payments to community groups, including Rim Country Literacy, the Time Out domestic violence shelter, the Northern Gila County Historical Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Payson Helping Payson and Habitat for Humanity. Each of those organizations in the upcoming budget year will receive between $800 and $1,400 — about 20 percent of what each group once received.

The only exception to the shrinking payments was the Payson Senior Center, which will receive $80,400 in the budget if it is approved as submitted.

That payment mostly represents contracts for services provided, usually federal funds given to the town for various community services and then contracted out to the senior center — like Meals on Wheels.

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