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Chamber borrows funds, awaiting county payment

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Without the $40,900 the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau owes the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, chamber president Mary Ann Brockman said she might have to borrow against the chamber’s money market account to make future payroll.

She’ll certainly have to borrow $3,000 for the three scholarships awarded annually to three deserving high school seniors in Manatee County. The presentation is planned for May 25.

“They’re still developing the contract to get the funding to us,” Brockman told executive board members at their May 20 meeting.

The funds have been tied up since November 2010 while county attorneys draw up a contract, and the county will not authorize release of the money until a contract is signed,

Brockman said the county has been working on the contract for seven months.

Board chair-elect Karen LaPensee, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Cindy Thompson, said the first contract presented a few weeks ago was rejected by the board because it did not guarantee reimbursement for certain expenses.

“It’s gone back to the county attorney and I was supposed to have an answer today,” she said. “But I didn’t get one.”

LaPensee said Brockman has to borrow against the money market account because the chamber has been covering postage and rent the past seven months. Postage alone amounts to nearly $3,500 a month, Brockman said, and that expense has been “draining our account.”

“We truly rely on that money. It’s working capital for us and to not have that coming in is a real burden,” said LaPensee.

In return for the funds, the chamber acts as a county tourist information center. “The money is ours. The (county) commission approved this and said we should be reimbursed,” LaPensee said.

The chamber had a “hand-shake” agreement with the BACVB for nine years until late last year, when county attorneys said the payments have to be made under a contract, Brockman noted.

Board member David Teitelbaum, who also is a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, said the BACVB was “not trying to hurt the chamber,” but the lawyers want to ensure the process is “completely legal.”

In other chamber news, Larry Chatt said the new chamber website is nearly 80 percent complete and will be online within a few weeks. Every chamber member has an individual page on the site and can make changes or corrections with approval of the board.

“It’s like everyone is going to have their own website within a website,” Chatt said.

The board learned that Ed Chiles’ restaurants will be unable to participate in the 2012 wedding festival scheduled for the first week in May due to planning and sponsorship of the Food and Wine on Pine event at the same time.

Teitelbaum said the wedding festival really needs Chiles’ involvement and he would speak with him about alternate dates.

Board members rejected a January wedding festival because of the likelihood of cold weather.

Early May is the best time for the wedding festival because rooms are readily available that month and it’s not too hot, Brockman said.

Teitelbaum also discussed the advertising contract on the new Island trolleys. The first trolley will go into service on Aug. 14, he said, followed by another every 30 to 45 days until all five new trolleys are operational.

Advertising rates are “very affordable,” he said, and revenues are used to offset the county’s maintenance costs for the trolleys.

Businesses that had contracts for ads on the old trolleys will be given the first opportunity to advertise and select a position on these trolleys, he said.

Members agreed more promotion is needed for the annual luau scheduled July 16 at the Gulf Drive Cafe.  Brockman said Gulf Drive Cafe owner Wendy Kokolis told her she expected the chamber to got free advertising from local media.

Brockman said she would look for a sponsor for the luau.

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