Thursday, August 23, 2012
Supervisors want county Chamber
By SUE WATSON
Representatives of the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce got more than they bargained for when they visited the board of supervisors Monday to ask for more support.
The board, instead, pressed the Chamber representatives to create a Marshall County Chamber.
Discussions of the widespread membership of the Byhalia Chamber were kicked off by Bill Kinkade, a director and past president.
The 24-year-old organization has grown to present membership of 291, with 121 in Marshall County. Memberships from surrounding areas include 59 in DeSoto County, 29 in Shelby County, Tenn., three in Madison County, two in Lafayette County, and one each in Benton, Union, Lee and Bolivar counties.
Only 73 members are from Byhalia, he said.
It is with the support of the Marshall County Board of Supervisors that the organization is flourishing, Kinkade said.
Budget concerns were the real issue – how to support the organization to assure it continues to grow and to excel.
“Subsidies are so key in our budget to maintain growth – residential development, tax base expansion, jobs and opportunities,” he said.
On the list of things cut due to lack of funding is Leadership Marshall, an important leadership development program that was discontinued due to lack of cash.
“It’s important to start by saying thanks,” Kinkade said. “We have a plan. It’s not about luck. It’s about conviction. Your help is always needed.”
The discussion switched quickly as supervisors, under pressure this time of year to fund many causes, wanted their constituents to understand why the Chamber should be a countywide organization.
After thanking the chamber, supervisor Keith Taylor said the Chamber is worth it, but the board of supervisors has to come up with an extra half-million dollars to cover just the county’s needs - not its wants.
Kinkade explained that the Chamber in Byhalia had created “a different identity.”
“People are looking at our roads and bridges - economic development,” he said.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett, while praising the Byhalia Chamber, said many of his constituents in Potts Camp do not understand why they are being taxed to support an organization that they see as benefiting Byhalia only.
“Why can’t there be a Marshall County Chamber?” he said.
Kinkade said they are working to that end.
“But, where is the growth coming first?” he asked. “Byhalia.”
Sarah Sawyer, executive director of the Byhalia Chamber, stepped in to explain how the Chamber works with the county.
“We are working directly with the county schools,” she said. “I got the nicest email from the Potts Camp principal saying how they appreciate us. Our home is Byhalia, but we are serving the entire county.”
Bennett reiterated that people do not realize Chamber work goes on all over the county.
“It needs to be Marshall County Chamber,” he repeated.
Supervisor Keith Taylor agreed with Bennett, saying the two Chambers in the county should be one Chamber.
“I am supervisor in the north but do not want to neglect Potts Camp,” he said. “We want to promote all of Marshall County. If a lot of people would give up ‘this is ours,’ we need one central Chamber.”
Sawyer agreed Bennett made good points, adding that attendance was 130 at the recent Chamber luncheon in Byhalia. The organization serves people all over the county and has board members from all over the county, she said.
Taylor said he wants the board of supervisors to unite and ask for one Chamber.
He asked what the county contributes. Sawyer said it is $5,600 a year. Both chambers are equally funded by the county, she said.
Supervisor George Zinn III asked if the chambers merged, would there be just one director?
Kinkade said he would recommend one director.
Bennett said the board of supervisors, a political entity, should not appoint representatives to the Chamber board, if it was unified.
Sawyer said now that Holly Springs has merged Main Street with its Chamber, they likely will not want to merge with Byhalia’s Chamber.
Chancery clerk Chuck Thomas said the Byhalia Chamber is setting the bar.
Bennett said voters complain that their taxes are supporting Holly Springs and Byhalia.
“They don’t understand it,” he said. “If it was Marshall County Chamber, they would.”
Taylor said some voters do not understand.
“They are stuck in a box,” he said. “It’s more than the city limits of Byhalia (that the chamber serves). No organization puts in as many volunteer hours as the Byhalia Chamber. Sarah Faye (Sawyer) came to me a year ago and said ‘talk to Bill Mobley.’ As a county supervisor, I’d much rather put in one line-item, one Chamber.”
Bennett reminded everyone that the Chamber is apolitical and must remain so.
Mobley, Industrial Development Authority executive director, was asked to comment.
“We’ve worked to combine the Chambers for three years since I came here,” he said. “Pontotoc County has it - Chamber/Main Street.”
He said there has been an effort to join the two Chambers into one organization since he has been on the job.
“We now have to make a countywide effort like we do for economic development,” Mobley said. “What is good for Potts Camp is good for Barton, especially in the Chamber and economic development.”
With that, Taylor made a motion to ask the two Chamber boards to meet together at the IDA office to discuss the merits of a merger.
The motion passed unanimously.
Zinn asked Sawyer if a merger is the best route to take.
Sawyer said she has some hesitation because the Holly Springs organizations have just reorganized.
Supervisor Charles Terry added he supports one Chamber.
“If we can see now the unity, we can all pull in one direction,” he said.
Supervisor Eddie Dixon urged education of the populace to the concept.
Taylor added that if the two Chamber boards meet, additional insights may be gleaned that are not now apparent.
Sawyer came back to the central reason the Chamber visited the board – to discuss the budget. The Chamber works with the schools and is involved in efforts to beautify the area. She asked the board for a $1,000 a month budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
Andy McMillon, president of the Holly Springs Main Street Chamber, said he had no comment about the possible merger at this time until he talks with fellow board members.
Merger of the Holly Springs and Byhalia Chambers has been a topic long discussed, according to Barry Burleson, editor and publisher of The South Reporter.
He said with no results in sight on a merger, Holly Springs worked to merge the two organizations it had into one – the Main Street Chamber.
The new Holly Springs organization is currently in search of an executive director, he said.
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