City of Marquette contemplates restoring funding to Mar-Mac Chamber

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The city of Marquette is contemplating restoring funding to the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. At its Sept. 15 regular meeting, the council dispatched councilmen Jason Winter and John Ries to sit down with chamber representatives to discuss the possibility and to discern if some of the city’s reservations can be addressed.

In the spring of 2013, the city withdrew funding support of the chamber, troubled by a lack of communication and accountability for the spending of funds. Since then, while Marquette businesses have continued on as chamber members, the city has promoted the community, businesses and attractions itself, as well as formed a tourism and economic development director position.

Councilwoman Cindy Halvorson, who is also an owner of Eagles Landing Winery, has championed the chamber since assuming her council seat in 2014. At last month’s meeting, she again broached the subject of the city restoring funding, as she felt it was in the best interest of Marquette businesses.

“I think the chamber does a great job,” she stated at last week’s meeting, noting the chamber website and its calendar of events, which she said help promote the winery, Driftless Area Wetlands Centre and other Marquette businesses and activities. Conversely, Halvorson said she was dissatisfied with the lack of events posted on the city website. “The council needs to listen to the tax-paying businesses of Marquette. The bottom line is, the city has let us down.”

“I want to support the businesses, but we were elected to be fiscally responsible for all of Marquette,” Winter countered. “Back then, we weren’t getting answers. It was not an easy decision then and it’s not an easy decision now.”

Winter questioned the council members who are business owners about how the cease of funding has affected their sales.

Ries, owner of the School House Mall, said, in the last year, he saw a 5 percent increase in business, which he mentioned is the smallest increase he’s seen in eight years of ownership. However, he said it was indistinguishable whether or not the funding changes influenced that.

Halvorson motioned to return funding to the chamber, at an amount of $8,000, which was roughly the amount the city contributed annually when it ceased funding. However, her fellow council members and mayor Norma Mason stated a desire to further consider the move.

“We want the council to make an informed decision,” Mason said. “There was discussion on leaving, so there should be some on coming back so it’s fair and equitable to everyone.”

Winter agreed, noting, “Nobody’s against the chamber, but I am against throwing it at them right away. We should take baby steps to see if it’s working for the community.”

Mason suggested several points she would like the chamber to agree to if the city decides to restore funding. That includes making funding proportionate to the number of businesses in Marquette, which she said is currently 11. She also proposed including a Marquette representative on the chamber board and said a monthly report should be given to the city with information about what was done to promote Marquette, as well as a budget presented to the city yearly or as requested. Other stipulations include monthly visits from the chamber director to Marquette businesses and city hall along with further promotion of the Wetlands Centre.

Mason also said the city would like help promoting events, namely at Fourth of July.

“I don’t think [funding the chamber again] is good or bad either way,” she said, “but, if we get involved, we should be able to say we want help with the parade, fireworks and celebration. In the past, the city hasn’t received that.”

Councilwoman Rinda Ferguson said, if the city decides to fund the chamber again, she would favor allocating money toward certain projects.

“We should not just send it willy-nilly,” she said, “because there’s always going to be questions about how it’s spent. What we do now needs to be specific because another council is going to have to deal with it.”

Ries said he favors supporting the chamber but also wants to see regular reports. In the past, he said, that was something the chamber provided.

“I’m in favor of working with the chamber, but there needs to be some guidelines,” agreed councilman Galen McShane. “There’s too much controversy to not have them.”

The need for cooperation was also touched on during the meeting, with resident Connie Halvorson, who runs Eagles Landing Bed and Breakfast, noting that approaching the situation with a good attitude is important.

“If you’re not working together,” she said, “it’s not going to solve anything.”

“I feel, if you’re going to attract businesses,” added Ries, “there has to be a good relationship between city hall and the chamber. If not, it doesn’t create a good business environment.”

Ries said he wants to see chamber discussion on the meeting agendas indefinitely, until the issue is resolved.

He and Winter agreed to speak with the chamber.

“It would be nice to sit down and have a meeting,” Mason said. “Then we can see what the budget looks like and what they need and want from us.”

No matter what, shared city manager Dean Hilgerson, Marquette needs to be promoted.

“We have an extremely unique city and we need to create awareness,” he said.

Wetlands Centre

Ferguson gave an update on the Wetlands Centre, mentioning that director Katrina Moyna is out right now due to illness, so volunteers have filled in for scheduled events. The Friday Night Live farmers market has averaged 150 attendees throughout the summer, she said, and will end Oct. 9. The Wetlands Centre is also gearing up to host Hawk Watch on Oct. 10. Oct. 11-18, representatives from Khakassky State Nature Reserve in Russia will visit the area as part of the Russia-USA  Wetland Centre Exchange. Wetlands Centre representatives visited Russia in June. Ferguson said the Wetlands Centre is working with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Effigy Mounds, Maiden Voyage Tours, local geology expert Phil Burgess and others to show the visitors all the area has to offer.

Campground

Hilgerson said he’s going to move forward with investigating site potential for a campground at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre. 

“I think it’s a very viable thing for that area,” he said. “It’s important to get a concept for a project and possible budget costs.”

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