Jeff council discusses merger of Chamber, Main Street

~by Janice Harbaugh for GreeneCountyNewsOnline

At a time when Jefferson has received national recognition for restoration and historical preservation of its Main Street District and is seeing increasing tourism from those efforts, many are wondering how best to proceed. The city council heard from representatives of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Jefferson Matters: Main Street at the council meeting on Feb 11 about the benefits of having one director to coordinate the efforts of both groups.

With the upcoming retirement of Peg Raney from the Main Street group, one member of the audience said, “It would be a good time for the two groups to come together and pull volunteers together. It would attract more volunteers.”

Raney said, “Some programs are separately driven. One person (as director) is not able to take on everything.” Referring to tourism projects, she said, “We need a spokesperson here all the time to speak on tourism.”

City administrator Mike Palmer described a program he researched in Mount Vernon where programs similar to the Chamber and Main Street were combined under a director and an assistant coordinator. Under this idea, there would be no memberships in the Chamber and there would be a board to oversee the combined activities.

Council members discussed funding for two fulltime positions, preferring a net-zero situation where the revenue brought in by activities, events, and tourism would pay for the salaries and benefits for the employees, instead of money coming from the city.

City clerk Diane Kennedy estimated a total of $140,000 a year would be needed for a fulltime director ($55,000 plus FICA, IPERS, and health insurance) and a fulltime assistant ($30,000 plus FICA, IPERS, and health insurance.)

While no action was taken on the idea of merging the Chamber and Main Street, the council agreed to discuss it further with the groups involved.

In other business, Ken Paxton, Greene County Development Corporation, reported housing projects are moving forward and there are possibilities for housing projects in Paton and Scranton. He said Heartland Bank has moved into the restored building at the corner of Chestnut and State Sts.

Paxton also described “the first rural co-working space in Iowa” as a possibility for one of the empty restored buildings “if (the interested party) commits to it.” Co-working spaces are small areas in buildings that are rented as offices or workspaces for small businesses or individual proprietors.

During the open forum part of the council meeting, a resident asked the council about “buying downtown buildings when we have limited resources and we’re losing money because we can’t fix leaks in the city.”

Council members and mayor Matt Gordon responded with statements about the economic value of the historical restoration to tourism and that Jefferson is one of only four communities in the state  with an intact downtown square.

Gordon said, “We have to spend money to make money” during the wide-ranging discussion. Council members said money for building and restoration comes from several places including TIF (tax increment funding) and the casino.

Council member Harry Ahrenholtz said, “We couldn’t delay because the roofs were ready to fall in.”

Council member Dave Sloan said, “Some of those buildings cost (only) $50 to $200 to acquire. They have shared walls and we can’t let those buildings fall into the street.”

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