Citing lack of trust in group, finance committee opts not to allocate usual $25,000 contribution
Port Main Street Inc.’s request for $25,000 from the city to finance its operations next year was rejected Tuesday by members of the Finance and
License Committee — the first time since the organization’s inception five years ago that it will not receive city funds.
There are too many differences between the two for the city to continue funding the group, committee members agreed, including the makeup of the
Main Street board and the role of its executive director.
“We’ve come up with a lot of things we don’t agree on,” Ald. Dave Larson, the committee chairman, said. “Maybe it is time the city steps away and
allows you to run your organization the way you see fit.”
It’s also a matter of trust, Larson said.
“Main Street doesn’t have a lot of trust in the city, and the city doesn’t have a lot of trust in Main Street. That makes it difficult to move ahead,” he said.
The group’s response to the loss of what Main Street members said was roughly $20,000 on Rock the Harbor, an August celebration of Harley
Davidson’s 110th anniversary, was also cited by the committee as a reason for its decision.
Main Street has yet to take responsibility for the situation or develop controls to ensure the situation doesn’t repeat itself, committee members said.
“My constituents have said clear and crystal, ‘Why are you giving money to an organization that didn’t have controls to keep it from losing $20,000 for
an event?’” Ald. Doug Biggs, a committee member, said.
Jim Biever, president of the Main Street board of directors, said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting he was surprised and disappointed by the
“We don’t have a plan B yet,” Biever said. “We’ll have to adjust our budget appropriately. We’ll scale back a few things. Right off the bat, I can’t say
what those things might be.”
Marcia Endicott, a member of the Main Street board, questioned whether the city supports the organization.
“Would you like Main Street to dissolve?” she asked committee members. “That’s what I’m picking up tonight.”
Committee members said they value what Main Street has done for the community but question its checks and balances, particularly in the wake of
the Rock the Harbor losses.
While the committee recommended cutting the city’s subsidy for Main Street, aldermen left intact the $1.84 per $1,000 assessment it imposes on
downtown property owners to support the Business Improvement District. The assessment generates about $60,000, with $55,000 typically allocated to
Main Street for its operations.
However, in reviewing the BID budget Tuesday, the committee stressed that it wants the organization to more closely oversee the use of those funds.
“We don’t want that to continue,” agreed Scott Huebner, a member of both the BID and Main Street boards. “The group (BID board) feels there needs
to be accountability.”
Biggs said he wants the BID to require Main Street to pay off its debts and make up its deficit before it receives any BID funds.
“They have to be whole before they get a dime,” he said. “They’ve got to get 2013 sorted out.”
Committee members recommended the $25,000 previously spent on Main Street be earmarked for economic development throughout the city.
“This city needs more industry,” said Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of the committee. “I think it’s just time to move on and spend this on developing the
entire city and trying to draw industry here.”
All the downtown businesses combined won’t hire 100 additional people in the coming years, he said, but one large industry might, and that would
help support the community as a whole and the downtown businesses that make up Main Street.
However, aldermen said, the funds could also be used to help finance a Main Street project in the future if necessary and appropriate.
The Main Street budget presented to the Finance and License Committee predicted the group would take in $142,000 next year, including the
$25,000 city contribution and $55,000 from the BID.
The bulk of the rest of the revenue would come from events and fundraising. Biever noted that the budget anticipates significantly more in fundraising
proceeds than have been collected in the past, showing a commitment by the board of directors.
But aldermen were skeptical of the group’s ability to meet the fundraising goals.
“These are aggressive numbers,” Biggs said.
The expenditure side of the budget shows Main Street spending $134,800, resulting in a surplus of $7,200 by the end of next year.
Biever told the committee that the budget also anticipates that Main Street will end 2013 with a deficit of $2,500, provided its Comedy Night is
successful and brings in the expected $4,000.
However, committee members noted that the organization hasn’t paid $3,000 it awarded to businesses in facade grants this year, bringing the total
deficit to $5,500.
Tuesday’s discussion largely centered on Rock the Harbor, which put Main Street in a precarious financial position even though the organizers had
promised repeatedly that the event would not tap into the organization’s funds.
When asked, Biever said the festival probably cost Main Street $20,000, adding commissions are continuing to trickle in so final numbers aren’t
available. All the bills from the festival are in, he added.
Main Street officials repeatedly said many businesses had record profits during Rock the Harbor, Larson said, suggesting the organization try to get
these businesses to make up the projected deficit.
“I would think you could collect that $5,500 easily and they would still have record days,” he said.
Main Street did approach businesses for funding but was unsuccessful, Biever said.
“That’s surprising,” Biggs said. “It seems a few businesses benefitted and an entire organization took it on the chin.”
Larson said the city has asked the Main Street board to be accountable for the mistakes of Rock the Harbor, but hasn’t seen any tangible results.
“You talk a lot about lessons learned and accountability,” he said. “We asked the board to look at itself. We used the term ‘blow up the board.’ I think
there should be some reorganization of the board.”
The committee questioned what Main Street is looking for in a new director, and whether the $36,000 salary is enough to attract the quality candidate
the position requires.
Dan Micha, a member of the Main Street board, said the new director should be charged with raising enough money to cover the cost of his salary,
with a bonus proportional to additional funds the director raises.
Larson questioned this, noting the National Main Street Center specifically says fundraising is a board function, not a job for the executive director.
The committee also asked about the board’s decision to omit a requirement to follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law from its bylaws, and its
decision Monday to reinstate it at the city’s prompting.
“The fact it took so long makes me nervous,” Larson said.
“It was a mistake on our part,” Biever said. “It blew up in our face.”