Orange County’s government will continue spending tax dollars on chamber of commerce membership dues, but not as much as last year.
Orange County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairwoman Penny Rich raised questions about payments to local chambers of commerce in June and argued for dropping a Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber membership. Rich noted the costs, as well as policy differences with chamber President Aaron Nelson and that chamber’s support for Durham and Chatham businesses.
Nelson defended the chamber, saying it shares the county’s values, despite the differences on some issues, and has advocated for county goals, including the 2016 bond referendum; sales taxes for economic development, schools and transit; and efforts to recruit and retain local businesses.
The conversation revealed multiple county departments were paying for chamber memberships, so the commissioners asked staff to look into it, while voting in June to renew a single $8,500 Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber membership and add a $1,000 Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber membership.
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County staff reported Tuesday that several departments had paid a combined total of $39,449 to the two chambers between July 2016 and June 2017.
More than half of the money came from the county’s general fund. Over $20,000 was spent on four Hillsborough/Orange County memberships and five Chapel Hill-Carrboro memberships, and $11,945 paid for officials to join the biennial Inter-City trip last year to Boulder, Colorado.
After hearing Tuesday’s report, Rich had a different suggestion: Reduce the county’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber membership to a lower $3,900 level and use the savings to buy a $3,000 Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber membership. Let the county manager use the remaining $2,600 to buy extra event tickets, she said.
“After reviewing this, I think that it’s important that we balance out what we’re paying to each chamber,” Rich said. “The way that I see we did this – with the $8,500 (to Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and the $1,000 going to Hillsborough – doesn’t feel right to me, doesn’t feel balanced.”
Commissioner Earl McKee countered with another option: Leave the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber membership alone and spend a little more to buy a $3,000 membership in the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber.
“I see no reason to reduce the level that we are contributing to Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s Chamber of Commerce,” McKee said. “They’ve worked with us; they do not necessarily have to agree with every decision that we make nor do they always have to walk in lockstep with us.”
The commissioners approved McKee’s plan 5-1 with Rich dissenting. The county will pay $11,500 in the future — from the county’s General Fund and the Visitors Burea Fund — to provide all county employees and departments with memberships in both chambers.
The County Manager’s Office will track how individual departments use their money to buy chamber event tickets, sponsorships, and training and travel.
Where the money went
A report shows how taxpayer and visitor money was paid to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Hillsborough/Orange County Chambers of Commerce in the last year:
▪ Economic Development: $8,500 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $1,000 (Hillsborough)
▪ Visitors Bureau: $5,900 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $3,000 (Hillsborough)
▪ Public Library: $745 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $200 (Hillsborough)
▪ Health Department: $489 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $200 (Hillsborough)
▪ Visitors Bureau: $3,765 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $800 (Hillsborough)
▪ County Manager’s Office: $76 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro)
▪ Economic Development: $76 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro)
▪ Health Department: $50 (Hillsborough)
▪ Public Library: $165 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro); $70 (Hillsborough)
▪ Animal Services: $50 (Hillsborough)
▪ Solid Waste Management: $100 (Hillsborough)
▪ Visitors Bureau: $530 (Hillsborough)
▪ Visitors Bureau: $937.50 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro)
▪ Sheriff’s Office: $850 (Chapel Hill-Carrboro)
▪ County Commissioners: $2,265
▪ County Manager’s Office: $4,130
▪ Economic Development: $3,485
▪ Visitors Bureau: $2,065