If the proposed merger of the Fulton and Montgomery county chambers of commerce is approved Thursday by the chambers' members, the new organization would have to sort out how to promote tourism.
The Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry is the county's official tourism promotion agency. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce held that designation until November 2010, when the county Board of Supervisors voted to transfer the responsibility to the Department of Planning and Economic Development beginning in January 2011.
Shayne T. Walters, chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, said the reason for the change was purely economic.
"The board took it in-house because we can do it cheaper," Walters said. "Unless the chamber can prove they can do it cheaper, we ain't changin' nothin.'"
Root Supervisor John Thayer, chairman of the board's Finance Committee, doesn't see a problem with maintaining the current arrangement.
"It's a contractual obligation Fulton County has with its chamber," he said. "I don't see Montgomery County jumping on a new arrangement. I believe bringing [tourism promotion] in-house has saved the county money. Our tourism dollars have been stretched by bringing it in-house."
Brennen Parker, chairman of the Montgomery County chamber's Board of Directors, said the Board of Supervisors makes the TPA designation each year.
"It's an annual decision," he said. "We hope to have the opportunity to become the tourism promotion agency again."
Rose said his department budgeted around $60,000 for tourism this year.
"Every year, the county generates 'bed tax' revenues," he said, referring to the county's 4 percent hotel and motel occupancy tax. "Whatever is generated in bed tax revenues is what we budget for tourism for the following year."
Mark Kilmer, recently named the interim president of the Fulton County chamber, said he understands the situation.
"In a merged chamber, Fulton County will control its own tourism," Kilmer said. "The merged chamber will not be the tourism promotion agency for Montgomery County."
But even with the disparity in tourism promotion, Kilmer said the merger of the two chambers is a good idea.
"The chamber is integrated with tourism," he said. "It's a greatly beneficial organization to the county. Hopefully, both counties will benefit from the merger."
The merger vote will take place Thursday afternoon in both locations. The Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry will meet at 4 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce will meet at 3 p.m. in the chamber office in the Amsterdam Riverfront Center.
At both meetings, a motion to approve the merger will be made and seconded. Chamber staff members will distribute ballots, then collect them, leave the meeting room, count them, tabulate the results, return to the meeting room and announce the results, according to Terry Swierzowski, interim president of the Fulton County chamber.
At least 10 percent of the membership of each chamber must vote, and the merger must be approved by a two-thirds majority of those voting.
The Fulton County chamber has 850 members, so at least 85 members must vote. The Montgomery County chamber has 522 members, so at least 53 members must vote.
Printed ballots will be used for both elections. The ballots must be signed and dated to ensure each voter is qualified, but the balloting is still secret in the sense that no one will know how anyone else voted, Swierzowski said.
The ballots from those voting in person will be combined with "proxy" ballots - those filed by other people on behalf of chamber members who are unable to vote at the time - to get a complete ballot count. Proxy ballots must be signed and dated to assure that the person voting is authorized to act on a member's behalf.
In Fulton County, proxy ballots must be returned by 2 p.m. Thursday at the chamber office or by 3 p.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn.
In Montgomery County, chamber members may bring proxy ballots with them to the 3 p.m. meeting, according to Brennen Parker, chairman of the chamber's Board of Directors.
If both chambers approve the merger, the state attorney general must approve it as well. Parker said that is standard procedure. A certificate of merger is then filed with the Department of State, according to the merger plan.
"Whenever two 'not-for-profits' combine, the attorney general needs to approve it," he said. "It will take four to six weeks to get approval."
Once the merger is approved, a new board of directors will be formed. All officers and directors from both chambers will serve on the new board for an initial term of two years, according to the merger document. The chair, second vice chair and treasurer will come from the former Fulton County Board of Directors, and the first vice chair and secretary will come from the former Montgomery County Board of Directors, according to the document.