Chamber changes in the wind

For a lot of people, including me, the idea of change is uncomfortable. But when I learned the Marion Chamber of Com?merce will close at the end of the year, it gave me reason to pause.

Since October 1944, the Chamber has been a fixture at Marion City Hall and Margo Yates has been a constant. Whenever I would go to a city council meeting, I would wave to Margo, whose office was across the hallway.

When there was a Chamber luncheon, I would see her at this little desk taking money for the meal and sometimes before I actually saw her, I could hear her contagious laughter.

Margo, thankfully, will still be around as the new Marion Parks and Recrea?tion director, but the Cham?ber?s future isn?t promising.

Don Noller, the president of the Chamber, says there just isn?t a good plan to keep it going. One of the biggest hurdles is money. The Chamber has a $3,000 to $4,000 deficit; so far, efforts to raise that kind of money haven?t been successful.

At the October luncheon, Noller said donations toward the deficit would be welcomed, but most members had blank looks on their faces. They were probably still in shock after learning the Chamber would cease to exist Dec. 31.

To some it might appear that closing the Chamber came out of the blue. But, that couldn?t be further from the truth.

For many years the Chamber struggled to stay afloat. Toward the end of each year, when the budget was in the red, some members paid their $200 dues in advance as did some Art in the Park booth-holders.

Now there?s no money coming in and the board is reaching out to businesses and members to get through this.

No one thing led to the Chamber?s demise, but rather it was more of a snowball effect.

One of the first hits came when the Marion school district could no longer pay Margo?s salary for the recreation program. She was paid to work part time as the Chamber secretary and part time at the recreation center.

When the school could no longer pay part of her salary, Margo needed to find something else.

The city, after learning about the school dropping that expense, proposed a new position combining the recreation, parks and cemetery departments. After interviewing several candidates, Margo was offered the job.

Once the city council agreed to the new job proposal, it also decided to cut $7,000 it annually gave to the Chamber. The city did provide an office for the Cham?ber, a phone, computer, printer and partially paid the utilities.

Even if Chamber members wanted to hire someone part time, there would still be no assets moving forward and the deficit is still looming.

One of the reasons Noller and the board said they waited until October to make any announcement was because they thought somehow, some way, an answer would materialize. No new workable solutions have surfaced, though.

The board is contacting other entities about continuing some of the programs for which the Chamber was responsible. Those include Art in the Park, which many think the city should continue, and monthly luncheons that some believe could be a Marion Economic Develop?ment Inc. responsibility.

Still, unless some organizations, businesses or individuals can come up with a workable plan, the Chamber will close in two months.

Nothing is ever set in stone, but without direction, the board, its members and those who have benefited from all the Chamber promotions will soon be forced to say good-bye.

Patty Decker is a news and features writer for the Free Press. Her coverage beat includes Marion city government and organizations. She can be reached at patty@?hillsborofree?

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