The Chamber of Commerce demonstrated a willingness to work with the city in marketing Pacifica to tourists Wednesday night that some say hadn’t been seen in decades.
At a special budget study session, Chamber CEO Courtney Conlon laid a plan out simply: If the city contributes $54,500 to the chamber, her organization can immediately supplement an ongoing public relations and marketing campaign to promote tourism to Pacifica, enhance the visitor center on Rockaway Beach Avenue, design a centralized community calendar and develop a searchable website listing all unoccupied commercial real estate in city limits.
The timing of the pitch might seem odd because the city is currently looking for ways it can , but Conlon said that this plan would pay off in the end by increasing city revenue from a transient occupancy (hotel tax) and additional sales tax paid at local businesses.
“The city is experiencing financial hardship,” Conlon said to the city council. “We stand before you tonight to offer assistance with both short-term and long-term solutions that will enable the city to generate the much needed revenue to retain its vital city services."
The reactions of the three councilmembers at the study session—Len Stone, Mary Ann Nihart and Sue Digre—ranged from cautious optimism to hedged skepticism.
Councilman Stone was enthusiastic about the possibility of working with the chamber to create new marketing tools for the city, especially if the chamber’s plan could be funded à la carte, meaning the city could pay for the online empty real estate database but perhaps hold off on a community calendar, for example.
“We’ve never invested in raising our revenue,” he said. “I’m happy the chamber put forth a solution and means of doing that. This has never happened before.”
Still, he said, this may be something the council will need to consider funding five or six months down the road.
Councilwoman Sue Digre said she’s hesitant to fund an expansion of services at the chamber when she still meets business owners in town that were or are dissatisfied with what they’ve been getting out of the organization as is.
Conlon acknowledged that in the past the chamber may not have been the most active in serving its members, but that’s changed and last year its membership grew by 20 percent.
Councilwoman Nihart had several issues not with the marketing plan presented Wednesday night, but with the idea of funding the chamber at all.
She asked to see the most recent details about finances in the nonprofit and a breakdown of exactly what the city would be spending its money on.
“We can’t give money to something we don’t know will be there in a while,” she said Thursday morning. “I’m not implying anything, but you want to make sure the company is okay when buying a window. Also, there were not financials or anything outlined as to what we’re spending money on.”
Nihart’s concern about the chamber’s finances is perhaps justified based on its recent financial documents filed with the IRS.
From 2007 to 2009, the chamber’s revenues have fallen while its expenses have gone up (revenues fell from $268,896 in 2007 to $255,800 in 2009 and expenses rose from $264,428 in 2007 to $275,288 in 2009) leaving it with deficit of nearly $20,000 in 2009.
According to chamber Treasurer Cheryl Yoes, revenues in 2010 were flat and expenses were “way up”, meaning the deficit would have increased.
However, keeping revenues flat in economic times like these “isn’t bad,” said chamber member Jim Wagner, and the chamber listed about $140,000 in assets and savings on a document filed with the IRS in 2009, which can soften the impacts of a defecit.
When asked whether money given to the chamber by the city would specifically and only be used for the services outlined in the marketing plan, Conlon said it would.
In the end, Nihart said she just didn’t know where the city would find the money to purchase these services from the chamber and nothing was decided at the study session. The chamber’s proposal has not been placed on any future city council agenda for further consideration.
Chamber members have not given up, however. Conlon said they will continue to lobby the council to take a vote and approve this marketing plan, which, in the long run, she believes will pay off in spades.