Holly Springs rethinks ties to Chamber of Commerce

aspecht@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2014 

— After a year of friction, Holly Springs leaders are considering a new business relationship with the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Town Council members have accused the chamber – namely, former director Scoop Green – of not supporting town initiatives and ignoring some of the council’s requests.

Council members say they like the chamber’s new director, LeeAnn Plumer, who was hired by the chamber after Green abruptly resigned in September.

But at their recent planning retreat in Southern Pines, some said they want to add new oversight to how the chamber spends town money and change the chamber’s role at HollyFest, the town’s annual community celebration.

No official decisions were made. But council members said they were willing to change the way Holly Springs gives money to the chamber.

In December, the council pledged to give the chamber $10,000 to support programs such as the partners breakfast, Chamber Day at the Capitol, the business expo and the Shop Local campaign.

The amount the town gives to the chamber varies year to year.

Councilman Hank Dickson said he doesn’t want the town to give money to the chamber this year unless the chamber proves it’s using the money wisely.

“In the past, they’ve done things that aren’t in the spirit of good partnership and they’ve still gotten their money,” he said.

Dickson said he feels “a lot better” about the new chamber leadership, but “they’re still on probation.”

He continued: “They need to have a proven record so that they can earn back trust and get the up-front money that’s involved with that.”

Councilman Tim Sack agreed, saying he wants to see proof that taxpayers are benefiting from chamber programs that get money from the town.

“There needs to be something we can hang our hat on and something they can hang their hat on,” Sack said.

Others said they like the idea of vetting all donation recipients more closely because it’s a responsible way to manage tax dollars – not because they don’t trust the chamber.

“I think we need to give this new (chamber) administration a chance, the benefit of the doubt,” Councilwoman Linda Hunt Williams said.

Town Manager Chuck Simmons added: “To me, this is not punitive and has nothing to do with probation. This is just a way of taking care of taxpayer dollars.”

The council said it would contact the chamber before voting on any new donation rules.

Plumer, the chamber’s director, said the chamber is willing to justify how it spends taxpayer money.

“(T)here is good communication between the Town and Chamber and more of a willingness to work together than ever before,” she wrote in an email. “The Town wants to make sure it’s making a good investment with how the Chamber is using its funds. That is good management. I have no problem with having to justify how the funds are allocated.”

Questions about HollyFest

Council members said they want to control the price businesses pay to set up booths at HollyFest instead of letting the chamber handle it.

HollyFest is held each October and is hosted by the Holly Springs Parks and Recreation department.

The town allows the chamber to keep booth fees it collects from HollyFest because the chamber helps organize the event.

Last year, the chamber charged $75 to businesses that are chamber members and $275 to businesses that aren’t members.

Town Council members said they don’t like that businesses that are not affiliated with the chamber must pay more.

Dickson said the event “should be a perk for Holly Springs businesses, not just chamber members. Membership should have nothing to do with it.”

Dickson suggested a $50 booth fee for Holly Springs businesses and a $150 fee for out-of-town businesses.

“It’s our event. We shouldn’t let membership in another organization drive it,” he said. “If they don’t like that, then we’ll just take (booth fees) back.”

Plumer said she was willing to review the current fee structure.

“I see their point,” she said. “We’ve discussed it, and I’m certainly open to looking at it.”

The Town Council directed staff to get more information from the chamber before pursuing permanent changes.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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