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City Council questions chamber’s purpose while addressing funding request

Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci emphasizes a point during the discussion of lodging tax funds at the city council meeting last night.

Photo by Laura Gjovaag.
Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci emphasizes a point during the discussion of lodging tax funds at the city council meeting last night.

A discussion of how to use lodging tax funds turned into a discussion about the purpose of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce at last night’s Sunnyside City Council meeting.

Councilman Francisco Guerrero, chair of the lodging tax advisory committee, presented recommendations on four of 12 requests received by the committee.

The council approved full funding for the Miss Sunnyside float and the city’s Cinco de Mayo event, but rejected an application for bocce ball tournaments. The council also funded the chamber for less than it requested and asked for a seat for a council member on the chamber board along with better accounting of how lodging tax money is spent.

Each request has two funding priorities, one to fully fund the project and the other for either partial funding or a smaller project. The advisory committee recommends a level at which each project should be funded based on the application made by the organization.

The committee recommended funding the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce at $30,000, well below its priority one request of $45,000 and its priority two request of $40,000. According to Guerrero, the committee felt that the application from the chamber did not have sufficient detail. The committee recommended that the chamber provide the details and have the council approve further funding once it was satisfied the funds were being used for tourism purposes.

Pam Turner, executive director of the chamber, came forward to answer questions. She said she had not been informed that the application had problems, and asked what needed to be done.

Mayor Jim Restucci asked if the $45,000 request was to be used for the chamber’s operating expenses. Turner said yes, noting that the chamber also sends out pamphlets promoting the town.

Restucci then read the law regarding lodging tax funds and said he is a little concerned about the funding going to the chamber.

“We’re having a discussion right now about whether or not we need to be spending money on tourism, and on events and on the chamber,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, those are three separate entities.”

Restucci said that Turner is a good events coordinator, but believes the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce is not doing its job.

“Its core responsibility is to build and foster relationships between businesses in our community,” he said. “Its job is to help facilitate businesses. Its job is not to coordinate events.”

He said that although some chambers have taken on duties related to events, the core function of a chamber of commerce is to bring businesses together. He said that only 140 or so of the 865 businesses in Sunnyside belong to the chamber, which shows that it is not accomplishing what a chamber should be accomplishing.

Restucci said he doesn’t want to pull any money from the events, but he is not certain that the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce is the proper vehicle for the events.

He said the city could hire an events coordinator or contract with the chamber, but it needs to be explicit and separate, not just an annual check from the city to the chamber for tourism promotion.

Restucci also suggested that the chamber modify its bylaws and allow a seat for a city council member on the board.

“That would go a long way to us knowing what is going on with the board and the function and direction that they’re going,” he said.

He said that he doesn’t want to cut funding for the chamber this year.

“It’s too short notice,” he said. “It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the things they do for this city.”

He said he was willing to support priority one funding this year provided that the council puts the chamber on notice that funding won’t be approved in the same way next year. He suggested that the chamber spend this year working on separating tourism and events from the core functions of the chamber.

Deputy Mayor Theresa Hancock noted that the advisory committee suggested that funding be withheld until the details are provided. She said that suggestion brings the chamber to the table with the city to make decisions on how the relationship between the city and the chamber will develop in the future.

Guerrero was concerned that the city not dictate to the chamber board, a private entity. Restucci said the arrangement is a quid pro quo.

“I’m telling you right now that if we don’t see a board seat by the end of this year for a member of this body on their board, personally I’m not voting to approve any more funding for the chamber,” he said.

Restucci said the city is funding the majority of the chamber’s operations. With that sort of support, a representative of the city needs to be on the board of directors.

Councilmen Jason Raines asked Turner how much of the chamber’s budget is paid for by the city.

“I would say about 75 percent,” said Turner. “But remember, you guys are a pass-through. I take everything into consideration and my board will too. I think sitting down and figuring everything out is a wonderful idea. But remember, it’s a private non-profit.”

Raines said that some cities have a visitor center and Sunnyside could contract for that, but it’s not the same thing as a chamber of commerce.

Turner agreed but noted that the chamber is serving as a visitor center for the city already.

“If you come into my office and you see all the pamphlets and everything that we have, 90 percent of what we do is tourism related,” she said. “I mail out information to people out of town, I take phone calls... to bring people to Sunnyside is what we want to do. That in turn brings money for businesses. People spend money here.”

Raines suggested funding the chamber at the advisory committee’s level and provide additional funds once the questions about the funding have been answered.

Councilman Spencer Martin suggested splitting the difference and funding at $38,000, while leaving the option open to approve further funding later. He asked Turner if the chamber could make it on that much funding. She said that it was possible, but it would be a struggle.

Martin moved to approve $38,000 and was seconded by Hancock. The board agreed to re-examine the situation by June. At that point, another member of the audience stepped forward to argue for the chamber.

Sharon Dolan thanked the council for supporting the Miss Sunnyside float, then noted that the chamber also supports the float by providing insurance coverage. She felt the motion by Martin might be risky, as the chamber’s insurance policy expires in June.

“All of this impacts a lot of things,” she said, referring to the chamber’s funding. “It really needs to be a transition, whatever happens.”

Turner said that it would not be a problem.

“We’re going to continue on, doing what we’re doing, hoping that in June we get funded for the rest,” she said.

The council voted unanimously to fund the chamber at $38,000, with the caveat that more funding could be available later if the chamber meets the council’s request for more information.

The council also approved the request for $20,000 for the Cinco de Mayo event with almost no discussion.

The Miss Sunnyside float was approved at the priority one level of $7,600 despite the advisory committee recommending it be funded at $6,500. The reasoning for the lower amount this year was that the full amount was not used last year.

Martin said that would be setting a negative precedent. He said if the funding level is reduced based on what is used, the tendency would be to use the full amount even if it is not needed to make sure to get fully funded next year.

Because the money is reimbursed and not given directly to the recipients, Martin said having the Miss Sunnyside Committee use less funds is a good thing. He didn’t want to set a precedent of taking away funding if it’s not used and argued the council should fully fund the float.

The council agreed with Martin and voted to provide the full amount.

The final request was from Best Western Grapevine Inn to fund advertising for two bocce ball tournaments. The advisory committee recommended fully funding it, but when the council learned that the application was incomplete they sent it back to the committee.

Comments

icareaboutsside 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Glad that council member Francisco Guerrero and Mayor Restucci raised questions about funding request from the chamber of commerce. At a time when the public is expecting better financial management of the public's money by local, state and federal government, it is vital that groups and people understand one basic point: if you want taxpayers (public) money, you must give an account for it and submit to scrutiny. For too long council has given a blank check to the chamber without an inquiry as to what the money is for, or question what the money is going to get for our city. A chamber's work is basically to promote town's businesses, do whatever it can to help them grow, and bring those businesses together to improve our city; organizing events is secondary. As for functioning as a Visitor's Information Center, I don't see many people's cars parked there, or people flocking to ask questions about our city, or lots of things being done to let people know the chamber is there to help them. The other question is: what does the chamber do to help local businesses on an ongoing basis, rather than just ribbon cutting at grand openings? Hooray for council members asking questions! Don't let up, our city needs your eyes and ears to make things better for ALL business people.

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hondo62 8 months, 3 weeks ago

The Chamber does not receive a blank check from the city. There is an application process that is followed. Then the chamber submits all receipts, bills and supporting documentation for all expenditures to the city. The city then determines if submitted expenditures are valid under state law. If any expenditures are deemed invalid they are not submitted for reimbursement and the chamber is responsible to pay those debts. That is called a check and balance. All other reimbursements are presented for approval by the city council and a check is cut for the chamber. The mayor demanded a council member be appointed a member of the chamber board of directors. The city of Sunnyside has a PERMANANT seat on the Chamber board of directors, if the city ever took the time to appoint a representative or bother to come to the meetings, they would not have to ask these questions, they would already have had the answers. It seems some council members enjoy a perverse pleasure in utilizing their bully pulpit and verbally abusing organizations in a public forum.

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hondo62 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Organizing events is part of tourism and that is economic development a definite part of the chamber. When you bring in tens of thousands of people to events, it helps the local businesses, the idea is the events bring them here the first time they will then come back at other times. These visitors spend money at restaurants, gas stations and retail centers which generates tax revenue. Unless you sit in front of the chamber 8 hours a day 5 days a week you have no idea of how many people come in to the chamber, there is also phone calls and e-mail requests. The chamber has also provided businesses opportunities at workshops, computer classes and mentoring programs, been active in downtown revitalization and has partnered with YVCC, Sunnyside Community Hospital, Sunnyside School District, City of Sunnyside and the various departments within the city. Unless you are involved on a day to day basis with the chamber you have no idea what the impact and involvement the chamber has on the city and the businesses located here. I know because I was involved for 9 years with the chamber on such a level.

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jimrest 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I tried to reply to you Hondo, but the site is giving me a 403 Error (Forbidden), so I am will place my reply here and hope that it works. I am well aware of Article V Sect. 2 of the Chamber's Bylaws; however, I am not asking for a ex-officio City of Sunnyside representative, I am asking for a City Council representative. As for appointing someone, in 10 years I have served on the Council not once have I voted for a Chamber Board represenative. If this was Council's responsibility I would assume it would part of our appointment process at the first regularly scheduled meeting of the year.

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jimrest 8 months, 3 weeks ago

On the issue of tourism, RCW 68.28.1815 defines tourism and tourism promotion as:

"... activities, operations, and expenditures designed to increase tourism, including but not limited to advertising, publicizing, or otherwise distributing information for the purpose of attracting and welcoming tourists; developing strategies to expand tourism; operating tourism promotion agencies; and funding the marketing of or the operation of special events and festivals designed to attract tourists."

I am not arguing whether what the Chamber is doing is or is not tourism promotion, on the contrary, as far as I can see it is tourism and tourism promotion; however, if you re-read the article you will see that was not my concern. My concern was/is that Tourism Promotion is not the Chamber's Core responsibility, Article I, Sect. 1 of the Chamber's By-Laws states, "The mission of the Greater Sunnyside Area Chamber of Commerce shall be to promote the economic interest of the Greater Sunnyside Area involving agriculture, commercial, industrial, cultural, and civic developments." - No where in this mission statement does it say Tourism and Tourism promotion.

I have no problem with the Chamber doing Tourism Promotion, and I am more than happy to vote to provide funding for those events, my concern is that 75% of the Chamber's budget is being funded by the tax payers and they have a right to know exactly where those dollars are being spent.

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hondo62 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Tourism and tourism promotion is considered economic development, so the core responsibility of the chamber is intact, just the focus has changed. The bylaws do not exclude a council member from serving on the board, so it is redundant to specifically create a position for the council. It would also give the city an extra vote on the board that would be an unfair advantage. Since you are familiar with the by laws why haven't you made a motion during council to make a council member the representative? The chamber has asked many of the city managers for a rep, do you not think that the manager would bring this to the councils attention in the form of either informing the council of who the rep is or ask if the council would like to appoint a rep? Apparently not. As for the expenditures of lodging tax monies: 1. The chamber answers all questions asked on the proposal form that is submitted within the space allowed. Every year there is questions by LTAC and the council. This is an indication that the form is inadequate. this was brought up in a LTAC meeting and the chair was going to schedule a meeting to re-work the application to cover those concerns, never happened. 2. If the city attended board meetings, during which all aspects of the chambers operations are discussed, the city would have no questions. 3. The contract with the city and chamber for allocation of Lodging tax monies , allows the city to schedule a meeting, during regular chamber hours, for the purpose of scrutinizing chamber expenditures. 4. Council members receive the agenda and have an opportunity to study the materials before a council meeting, could you not have called beforehand to have any concerns answered?

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jimrest 8 months, 2 weeks ago

First of all, economic development is not tourism and tourism promotion in the eyes of the law, hence the rule of thumb that in order to spend LTAC funds you have to show "heads in beds" - unless you are building a hotel, motel, sports arena, etc...you are not increasing heads in beds when it comes to economic development. As for Council placing someone on the Chamber Board, you have got it backwards. If the board requires a seat to be filled by a City of Sunnyside representative then it's the Boards responsibility to request that from the city. As someone who has appointed a number of people to boards and commissions, I can tell you that when a board or commission requires and ex-officio member from another agency it falls to me to reach out to that organization not the other way around. And as for blaming Council for not participating, in 10 years on the Council I cannot recall ever being asked by the Chamber for a Council representative to their board, let alone voting on the issue.

I am familiar with the Chamber's By-laws because recently within the last few weeks I asked Pam for a copy of them so that before I asked for a Council seat I would be aware of the board's makeup. I disagree that having a Council Member is redundant, especially given that we now know that 75% of the Chamber's budget is funded by the city.

Lastly, on the responsibility of the chamber, I guess you and I have a different definition, I follow Webster's definition which states in part, "A chamber of commerce (also referred to in some circles as a board of trade) is a form of business network, e.g., a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community." Tourism and tourism promotion might assist in this process to some extent, but it is far from core responsibilities outlined in Article I, Sect. I of the Chamber's By-laws.

I intended to respond to your letter to the editor; unfortunately, the DSN has chosen not to allow commenting.

It's obvious you and I disagree here, and although I am more than happy to discuss this further with you I believe we have reached an impass, if you want to continue this debate please give me a call.

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