Chamber receives $75,000 in yearly funds from city|[6/24/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce received annual funding from the city Friday, though city officials stressed changes to the ways local tourism arms are funded remain in the works.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the allocation of $75,000 to the chamber at its regular meeting.

At the same time, however, the city is pushing the Vicksburg-Warren Alliance to continue to work towards making its allocation committee, formed last year, the umbrella for city and county funding to the Chamber of Commerce, the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Vicksburg Port Authority, said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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&#8220Hopefully that’s where we’re going,” said Leyens, who described the plan as &#8220much further along” now than when it was initially addressed last year. &#8220We want that allocations committee to oversee the funding for all of the city’s tourism arms.”

Scott Martinez, executive director of the Alliance, said the committee had been in place before the resignation of his predecessor, Charlotte Koestler, in January. Since then, he said, the plan to make the tourism and development group the filter for funds to other tourism and development groups has been on hold during the Alliance’s leadership shakeup.

&#8220That’s something that’s just resurfaced and that we’re about to revisit,” said Martinez, a Laurel native who was chosen over 18 other candidates to head the organization. &#8220All of the money the city gives to the different community groups, the Alliance would review each one’s plan of work and make sure there’s accountability there.”

The $75,000 allocation followed the submission to the board of an outline of the chamber’s programs, contributions and long-term goals last month. That plan focuses on community development, governmental services, internal development, membership services and retirement development.

&#8220Last year, I told them we would not fund them without a specific plan of work,” Leyens said.

The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1894 and is funded largely from membership dues, with some public money. Its board of directors named Christi Kilroy, former special events planner for the city, chamber president at a meeting June 7. She officially assumes the role Monday.

The Alliance has an annual budget of about $80,000, mostly from private donations. The money has been used to fund TV commercials that have appeared in out-of-state markets, a community Web calender, signs to downtown and other projects. It is open to the public, and organizations that are part of the group include local governments, economic development associations and charities.

In April 2005, the group was recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization, making donations to the Alliance tax deductible on federal and state returns.

One of its members is the VCVB, which is funded by a 1 percent sales tax collected on local hotel rooms. Tim Darden, chairman of the VCVB board of directors, resigned Thursday. The board voted unanimously for bank executive Nelda Sampey, the newest member of the board, to take his spot.

In other business, the board: