NEWTON — For the past several budget cycles, Newton City commissioners have been openly questioning funding outside agencies like Health Ministries, the Grand Central senior center and the Chamber of Commerce.
And that has Chamber director Pam Stevens concerned.
“I know that the next couple of years will be tight, and it will be hard to keep that funding,” Stevens told The Kansan on Thursday afternoon.
The Chamber office is running with her and two part-time staff. A full-time position is sitting open and Stevens is not sure about filling it. At one time the chamber operated with a director and three full time staff — it was also combined with the Convention and Tourism Bureau, which has since been moved out of the chamber offices and into city hall.
And then came Tuesday, when commissioner Leroy Koehn had a question during a budget work session that he wanted answered — what would happen if the City Commission did not fund a $30,000 request from the Chamber of Commerce, one of several outside agency requests commissioners must evaluate as they prepare the next budget.
The answer was a bit bleak. Stevens spoke of no longer creating and sponsoring nearly all community events the chamber works with now, and the elimination of staff — at least a 25 percent reduction in staff by headcount.
“If that funding goes away, my board feels like those events will go away,” Stevens said.
All events by the chamber — with one exception — would be axed. Gone would be Taste of Christmas, Main Street Mainia, Elf on the Shelf, College Night and Chocolate While You Shop.
“We will probably cut all of them, except the Taste of Newton,” Stevens said.
Taste of Newton is the organization’s premier event, attracting crowds of an estimated 10,000 to downtown for a one-night food and entertainment festival on a fall Thursday night leading into the Bethel College Fall Festival each year.
The cut in funding, Stevens said, would likely mean not filling a position open at the Chamber office. A communications position has not yet been filled after the last person working the position left for maternity leave and has chosen to not return.
The chamber has three main sources of funding — membership dues, events that serve as fundraisers and city funding.
“We try and budget. We are at the beck and call for members to pay their dues and we have a list every month of delinquent and inactive members who have not paid,” Stevens said. “Not that they don’t want to (pay), but circumstances (do not allow that).”
The Chamber has requested $30,000 for the 2019 budget, the same funding approved in the 2018 budget. Health Ministries Clinic has requested $40,000, the same funding level from 2017 and 2018. Grand Central is requesting $25,000, which is what was approved in 2018 and $10,000 more than 2017.