With funds scarce, Chamber looks for help

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 7:15pm

Having had a request to fund up to two independent employees to assist with tourist needs during the busy summer months turned down by the Town Council and the voters of New Shoreham, the Chamber of Commerce is looking to the Tourism Council for those funds.

After voters at the Financial Town Meeting narrowly defeated a request for $20,000 to fund the two independent positions, which would operate out of the Visitors Center in Old Harbor, Chamber Executive Director Cindy Lasser has turned to the Tourism Council for the funds.

The Tourism Council could only accept and not act on the correspondence from Lasser, which was dated April 23, at its meeting on Tuesday, May 7. Lasser’s correspondence also indicated that the Chamber’s finances were fragile enough for her to consider shutting down two days during the week so the Chamber could stay open on weekends until the summer season begins.

Lasser’s letter indicates that a decision two years ago by the Chamber to no longer accept an annual stipend of $20,000 from the Tourism Council continues to have repercussions. That stipend helped offset the costs of tourism counselors that must now be fully funded by the Chamber, but it no longer has the funds to do so.

Lasser said that she, as well as employees Grace Doyon and Terri McCombe, were the type of independent counselors the Chamber would like to hire again, so the positions are not new, just their funding source.

“The Chamber is in a very difficult financial position and we frankly need help to get through the summer,” Lasser wrote to the Tourism Council. “Currently, we see ourselves closing two days a week to be open on weekends. The intent is to keep payroll costs down ands then ramp up for the summer season.”

Lasser was in attendance at the Tourism Council meeting, as was Town Manager Ed Roberge, Second Warden André Boudreau and Councilor Sven Risom.

Roberge reiterated his past position that the larger question, which would not be answered until the fall, was what, exactly, should be done with the Visitors Center. Roberge said at the Tourism Council meeting that he would spearhead an effort by the different groups to try to solve the problem.

Risom, however, said it would be helpful if the public could get some sense of how the members of the Tourism Council felt about providing the funding, but Tourism Director Jessica Willi said there was a procedure in place designed to prevent that kind of “knee-jerk reaction.”

“This is a fairly hot topic,” said Risom. “The more one can help lay the bricks down then we can come up with a direction.”

“We appreciate all the hard work you’ve done,” said Council Chair Steve Filippi. “Everyone will do what they possibly can to make the island work better.”

Roberge said the question of what to do with the Visitors Center should be discussed in a public, open forum, a suggestion the board members appeared to agree with.

“The key thing is to [answer] what are the island’s needs, to do a needs assessment, and the goal is to by November have a clear direction,” added Risom.

Lasser said she believes the two boards, as well as working with Willi, are moving in the right direction.

“This is a very giving board. I’m enjoying it,” she said