Beleaguered Webster City Chamber given nearly $30K in tax grant

WEBSTER CITY — Thousands of dollars of hotel/motel tax grants were awarded at Monday’s City Council meeting, including almost $30,000 to the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Council members approved the grants based on recommendations from Andy Sowle, chairman of the Hotel/Motel Tax Board.

Sowle recommended that the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce’s request be denied.

Sowle reported that the Chamber of Commerce was late in submitting its application.

Denise Smith, a Webster City business owner, spoke on behalf of the Chamber.

“I apologize on our late turning in of our application,” Smith said. “I am sure you all are aware of the difficulties our board has faced with the loss of our staff. I don’t think I need to go into that tonight.”

She added, “The board is fully committed to moving forward.”

Smith did not go into specifics regarding difficulties, but earlier in the year the Chamber office was forced to close.

Board members have declined to say why.

The office has since been open through volunteer efforts.

On Monday, Smith told the Council that a new chamber director had been hired. Her first day was Tuesday.

“It is our intention as a board to provide as much support for every event listed here,” Smith said.

Smith said the reason for the late application entry was due to a miscommunication.

“I take full responsibility for that,” she said.

Councilman Jim Talbot asked what systems will be in place moving forward for internal audits of the Chamber.

“I think all the board was caught unaware of what was going on,” Talbot said.

Again, no details regarding the statement were given.

Instead, Smith said the board has put in stricter financial regulations.

She said at its most recent board meeting, the Chamber decided to freeze its board membership for one year.

“We have really learned our lesson in a painful way,” Smith said.

Jim Kumm, a Chamber board member, added, “There are, Jim, steps in place. I don’t want, at this time, to go into the depths of those until the investigation is complete. It still is an ongoing investigation. Until that is complete, we will be more than happy to let people know what’s been done.”

Councilman Brian Miller acknowledged the importance of the Chamber.

“There’s really not other entity that brings people into Webster City than the chamber,” Miller said. “The Chamber affects several businesses. We want you to stay as strong as possible.”

Miller added, “Jim had some great points, but going into next year, we aren’t some authority figure over you. You have your own board. You are completely capable of doing that. But of course there is some doubt in the community. A lot of that doubt comes from people who don’t understand how much you have done in the past and how many events came from the Chamber.”

The City Council approved $29,292.68 for a marketing plan for the Chamber.

The City Council followed Sowle’s recommendation to not fund the Hamilton County Veterans Monument.

“They are pretty new at this project,” Sowle said. “We thought if they did some fundraising. We encourage them to come back and request from us again. We think it’s a good project, just not right at this moment.”

Sowle recommended $10,000 to be awarded to All Cultures Equal. That organization requested $48,458.82.

“We think it’s a critical time for them,” Sowle said. “But we would like to see more fundraising and plans to move forward.”

Council approved that recommendation, with Councilman Jim Talbot voting in opposition of awarding the $10,000 to ACE.

“I don’t think they are doing any significant fundraising,” Talbot said.

Sowle said in order for ACE to do any cooking or sell anything to make profit, they would need a commercial kitchen.

“If they want to rent out their building or sell food for profit, they need this system,” Sowle said.

The council approved $4,690 for the Jane Young Foundation with Talbot the only council member to vote no. The money is to be used for insulation, sign, and marketing, according to Sowle.

The City Council unanimously approved the following recommendations by the Hotel/Motel Tax Board:

•Arts Are Alive — 7,945 — artwork downtown

∫Hamilton County Conservation — $5,000 — marketing for their anniversary of Briggs Wood Park this summer

•Help Entertain and Restore Organization — $15,000 — HVAC system in the Webster Theater

•Hamilton County Speedway — $40,000 — Catwalk project

•Webster City High School Band Boosters — $5,000

•Wilson Brewer Historic Park Committee — 14,469.20