Rockdale Chamber future uncertain
The future of Rockdale’s 332-member, 60-year-old Chamber of Commerce is cloudy after the organization’s board unanimously decided last week it would stop administering the city’s hotel-motel tax after Jan. 1.
City council members, meeting in regular session Monday at City Hall, quickly okayed a stopgap application form process, hoping to continue Chamber-involved events such as the Tejas Fest, Milam County Festival Barbecue Cookoff and Central Texas Outdoor Expo, which now appear in jeopardy.
The board’s decision, made last Wednesday and communicated to the city later that day, also means it’s unclear when, or if, the Chamber will be able to continue funding the office of president. That post has been vacant since Deedra Jacob resigned last month to accept another job.
MOTION—There’s been long-simmering tension between the Chamber and the city. Feelings apparent ly boiled over during last week’s board meeting.
Chamber Chairperson Debra Jackson told The Reporter she was trying to explain ongoing negotiations with the city over the annual hotel-motel tax contract, which comes up for renewal at the council’s November meeting.
Jackson said the Chamber held an Oct. 23 workshop session with the city council to discuss the contract.
“I thought we had everything worked out,” Jackson said. “But by the next day I was hearing there were apparently still some issues, that there was an alternate plan somewhere.”
“I felt like a dead horse that kept getting beaten up,” she said.
Jackson called a meeting of directors. “Every director but one was there,” she said. “During the discussion one director made a motion that the Chamber not administer the tax, it was seconded and passed unanimously.”
INTERIM—Monday, instead of proceeding with a contract to administer the tax—which was raised from 5.5 percent back to 7 percent earlier in the session—the council okayed an interim plan by City Manager Kelvin Knauf.
Knauf said application forms would be prepared whereby groups wanting to organize the events, could apply to the city for funding. Organizers would have to be in charge of all logistics for the events.
Mayor Larry Jones said the interim plan is not viewed as a solution but something to go into effect “while we sort things out.”
Council visitor Bill Vogelpohl spoke in support of the Chamber. “It’s always been the center of activity for Rockdale,” he said. “It creates a sense of pride. We need to encourage the Chamber.”
Vogelpohl pointed out the Chamber had 90 volunteers assisting with the Outdoor Expo in September. “No other organization has that reserve of volunteers,” he said.
He suggested that if the city needed additional revenue, it increase the city sales tax from 1.5 to 2 cents, dissolve the Municipal Development District (MDD) and reclaim the half-cent portion of the sales tax which is funding the districting.
“The MDD hasn’t developed anything,” he said.
FUTURE—Jackson said the Chamber will continue with plans for Christmas activities Dec. 8 and for the upcoming turkey giveaway.
And after Jan. 1? “We’re going to work just as hard as we can and do everything possible for the businesses in Rockdale,” Jackson said. “Of course this means we’re going to only have membership dues with which to work.”
But she said events like Tejas Fest—an annual spring book and art festival—the spring countywide barbecue at Fair Park and the fall Outdoor Expo at Apache Pass rely heavily on the hotel-motel tax.
As does the office of Chamber president. “I’d even suggested the contract be on a three-year basis,” Jackson said. “It’s so hard to get a qualified person to work in that job when you can’t guarantee them employment beyond a year.”
POSGCD—In other business, the council postponed action on requests from Dr. Curtis Chubb and Joy Graham to support election of Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation Board members, as opposed to appointment.
Dr. Chubb said 75 percent of such directors are currently elected.
Mayor Jones said he wanted input from the POSGCD.