Chamber, city agree on lease

by Tom Coombe

After nearly two years of haggling, the city of Ely and the Ely Chamber of Commerce appear to have found some common ground.<BR><BR>Tuesday, city council members unanimously endorsed a deal struck between city and Chamber representatives over several contentious issues, including a lease for the Chamber’s headquarters on the east end of town.<BR><BR>The Chamber will pay $1 a year to lease the building, which sits on city -owned property, and the city will abandon a push to charge the Chamber for using Whiteside Park for events such as the Blueberry Art and Harvest Moon festivals.<BR><BR>The city had estimated that it provides about $2,700 of services for the events.<BR><BR>In turn, the Chamber will pay property taxes on the building, which this year reached approximately $6,000.<BR><BR>The Chamber will also sponsor a raffle next year in which half the proceeds will go to agencies - the Ely Area Development Association and Ely Community Resource - that lost funding this year because of city budget cuts.<BR><BR>“I think we’re all excited to come to this sort of an agreement,” said Linda Fryer, the Chamber’s administrative director. “At this point, I think this is something we all can live with.”<BR><BR>The deal was presented to the council Tuesday, following months of talks involving Fryer, Chamber leaders and city officials including mayor Frank Salerno, city clerk-treasurer John Tourville and attorney Larry Klun.<BR><BR>“Fundamentally, this is really the first step in the campaign for cooperation between government and business in the city of Ely,” said Klun.<BR><BR>Representatives on both sides said they hoped the agreement would soothe an at-times thorny relationship between the two entities.<BR><BR>“I think communication has improved,” said Chamber President Bill Forsberg.<BR><BR>With city budgets strained by rising costs and reductions in state aid, council members have talked since 2002 about tapping the Chamber for revenue.<BR><BR>A plan to assess the organization, which generates $50,000 annually from festivals held in the city park, was met with opposition by Chamber leaders, who responded with data showing that many area cities subsidize their respective Chamber of Commerce.<BR><BR>Talk then turned to the Chamber building, which serves both as a tourist information center and headquarters for the Ely Chamber organization.<BR><BR>The city owns the nine-acre parcel that houses the building, parking lot and surrounding property.<BR><BR>Taxes were not assessed against the property until this year, and city officials pushed for the Chamber to take on both property tax payments and a sliding scale lease for the facility.<BR><BR>Negotiations produced a settlement in which the Chamber agreed to pay the property tax bill, in exchange for a 20-year lease calling for $1 annual payments from the Chamber to the city.<BR><BR>In addition to the nominal lease payment, the city will collect its share of the annual property tax bill but will back away from any further proposals to assess the Chamber for use of the park. <BR><BR>“The way we understand it is that the park issue and any other issues are in the past,” said Fryer.<BR><BR>The deal also coincides with the Chamber’s plan to sponsor a raffle to help both its bottom line and local non-profit groups.<BR><BR>Next year, the Chamber will hold a $5 a ticket raffle for prizes including summer and winter vacations at Ely area resorts.<BR><BR>The Chamber will keep 50 percent of the proceeds, and will donate the remaining 50 percent evenly between the EADA and ECR, which both had city funding allocations reduced this year.<BR><BR>Chamber officials stressed that the raffle is not related to the lease agreement.<BR><BR>“We look at this is two separate issues,” said Forsberg.<BR><BR>But the idea stems from a Salerno proposal that the city conduct a raffle. City officials found that it was illegal for government entities to sponsor a raffle.<BR><BR>The Chamber has asked for city assistance with the raffle, but employees will not be required to sell tickets.<BR><BR>“The perception that the city is holding a bake sale is not something that I’m comfortable with,” said council member Paul Kess.<BR><BR>The Chamber raffle will take place in 2005, and the organization will assess on a year-by-year basis whether to continue it. Other non-profit agencies could also be selected to benefit from the proceeds if the raffle is successful and becomes an annual event.<BR><BR>Both sides also have the option to opt-out of the building lease, with one year notice.