FARMINGTON — By a slim majority, leaders of Franklin County Chamber of Commerce are recommending that the group disband because of declining membership, which has dropped by a third in recent years, a chamber official said.

The roughly 200 chamber members left will now decide the organization’s fate at a meeting April 4, when they will be asked to dissolve the organization and sell off its assets, according to Ivan Gould, president of the chamber’s board.

Board members looked at cutbacks to save the chamber but failed to find a solution without making drastic changes to services, Gould said. He added that if the organization is to remain open, chamber members will also have to find a way to quickly address its dire financial outlook.

Because annual membership dues are the primary revenue stream, declines that started in 2008 have left the chamber teetering on insolvency, Gould said, referring to recent struggles to pay rent on the chamber’s offices in Farmington.

“At the rate we’re going, the majority of the board just doesn’t see a concrete solution to keep providing the services members deserve,” he said.

Among the solutions, the board looked at finding a new rental space to house chamber offices, cutting staffing and lowering annual dues to attract more members. They also considered relying more on members to volunteer their time to run the chamber, instead of having paid staff, he said.

The chamber’s board consists of 24 local business people who volunteer to serve after being appointed by the membership. At a closed door meeting Tuesday, 18 board members voted on the issue and just over 50 percent supported closing the chamber, according to Gould, a 39-year-old who owns a construction company in Farmington.

Chamber members and residents in the community alike seem to be divided on whether to keep the chamber open, he said, citing people sharing their feelings with him in recent weeks.

“I think a lot of folks, from what I’ve heard, believe that if the chamber closes it’s going to have a very negative impact on Franklin County,” he said.

Other groups of people, however, have said the plummeting membership shows there is waning support for the chamber, Gould added.

Donna Wheeler, vice president of Farmington Downtown Association, on Thursday said losing the chamber would have a devastating effect on the business community in Franklin County.

Her group consists of volunteers who support downtown Farmington businesses, but they still benefit from the chamber’s efforts to promote the entire region, she said.

For example, the chamber’s website and annual guide draws tourists, residents and shoppers to the area, Wheeler said. She noted losing the chamber only puts more pressure on her volunteers and other small local business advocacy groups, which lack the tools and resources to pick up the slack.

“I think the way things are today we need all the promotion we can get,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler believes the chamber performs unique business advocacy services. Other groups that promote all of Franklin County typically focus on economic development projects, which are different than the chamber, she said.

Details about the chamber’s decision will be released after the meeting on April 4, Gould said. He encouraged all chamber members to attend the meeting at 5:30 p.m. behind closed doors at the chamber offices on Wilton Road in Farmington.

His chamber announced it is looking at closing after its executive director, Stacie Bourassa, resigned a week ago to take a job with the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area. The executive director is the only full-time paid staff member of the Franklin County chamber, which has one other part-time paid employee and relies on volunteers to do other work.

Leaders of Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce will be watching the outcome in Franklin County very closely. They face many of same problems from declining membership and plan to hold meetings in the near future to find a way to stay open, according to a chamber official.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

 


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