The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Chamber faces tough decisions with no money, missing records

 

April 11, 2017



Facing deep debt and little revenue, all options up to and including discontinuing operations are on the table as the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors decides how to move forward.

Chamber President Bill Matthews on Monday, April 10, sent a letter on behalf of the board to 200 individuals, including chamber members, city councilors and other interested individuals outlining the situation.

After eliminating its executive director position in March because the chamber could no longer afford it, the board has been evaluating the organization’s status, Matthews said in the letter.

“After much discussion and the consideration of several courses of action, up to and including the selling of the building and lots and or discontinuing operations, the board concluded that we should open the situation up to our membership and the community for discussion, input and recommendations.”

Board members are Brian Adams and John Escalera, both members of the Sweet Home Safeway management team, who share a seat on the board; Ian Rollins, marketing and public relations coordinator with Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital; Karla Hogan of Keller Williams Sherri Gregory Home Team; Past President Arlene Paschen; Bill Baitinger, a retired businessman and Sweet Home resident; Dave Jurney, a retired teacher and coach and Sweet Home resident; Joe Graybill, senior engineering technician with the City of Sweet Home; and Matthews, who owns and operates HealthMarkets insurance agency and became president of the chamber in January.

During the board’s evaluation, members learned that “we essentially have no financial records,” Matthews said.

“We were using a Quickbooks system, but that is gone and with it all information with regard to accounts payable and receivable, profit and loss, balance sheets, invoicing and government reporting. We conducted an in-depth search of our office computer, but very little could be retrieved. No backup systems were found to exist.

“There are records that are left that we have possession of, but they’re either inaccurate or incomplete. We’ve done everything we can possibly think of to retrieve the information that is missing, electronic and printed.”

The chamber has no record of communications with governmental agencies, Matthews said. “We are in the process of trying to recover these, but there seems to be a significant gap between what should have been communicated and what has been received by those agencies.”

Most other information in different programs also is unavailable, Matthews said. That includes word-processing communication, spreadsheets, membership information and similar information. The chamber has been able to recover some of its email capability but not all of it. It does have access to its web page and Facebook accounts through a third party.

How and why the information is missing, Matthews said, “we’re unwilling to discuss it at this point.”

“All we’re doing is finding facts,” he said, the fact that information is missing, the chamber’s financial details and its relationship with government agencies. “Materially, the board was unaware of our situation. The information provided to the board over the past several months is incomplete or inaccurate.”

“Over the last two weeks, we have been accumulating information from a variety of sources with regard to our obligations. We found that the chamber is deeply in debt with some significant obligations going back several years. There is a possibility that there may be other significant obligations, depending on our conversations with government agencies.”

The chamber’s nonprofit status with the IRS remains in doubt, Matthews said.

“We are in the process of gathering information, but there are significant hurdles. I spent part of two days with the IRS. The IRS has no record of any communications with us for the past two years. They don’t have any of our 990s.”

Nonprofit organizations are required to file a Form 990, reporting their revenues and expenses, annually. While nonprofits do not pay taxes, the form is a public record open to inspection by members of the public. The IRS automatically revoked the chamber’s nonprofit status on Aug. 11, 2014 after the organization failed to file the Form 990 three years in a row, beginning with 2011.

Katrina Crabtree, executive director until March, told The New Era she began working on filling out and filing those forms when she went to work as a bookkeeper for the chamber in 2014. At the time, she told The New Era in 2015 that financial records were missing, and she was hard at work piecing them together.

While the IRS continued to list the chamber’s nonprofit status as revoked in January, Crabtree told The New Era then that she had submitted Forms 990 for 2011 through 2015, and she intended to file the 2016 Form 990 on time this month.

She said everything had been filed and accepted by the IRS, and the chamber was waiting on the IRS to reinstate its nonprofit status.

The IRS continued to show the the chamber’s nonprofit status as revoked on Monday.

The New Era had requested copies of 2014 and 2015 Forms 990 in January, but it did not receive them.

Matthews said Crabtree told the board that the 990s were under review and the chamber was on probation.

Matthews declined to report the chamber’s specific debts on Monday but said that information would be available during open houses it has scheduled to collect public input.

“We have no money,” Matthews said. “We don’t have the means to generate the funds to cover our obligations.”

The chamber has title to its current building and the adjoining property, he said, but three liens exist against those properties, and the board is expecting more. The chamber has two loans, one used to pay for building improvements and the other to purchase a neighboring lot.

“The chamber continues to suffer from declining revenue due to the non-renewal of many members and lack of community support from our fund-raising events such as the annual Awards Banquet and sponsorships and lack of volunteers.”

The chamber will host two open houses at the chamber office, 1575 Main St. to discuss the issues and listen to input from members and the community. The first is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 pm. On Saturday, April 22. The second is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 27.

A general membership meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, April 28 at the Jim Riggs Community Center, 880 18th Ave. At that meeting, the chamber will provide as much information as it has available.

“The board will see what public support we have, if any,” Matthews said. “The focus will be on where we are at, how we can move forward and what level of community support we may have. We need your input and ideas. Shortly after this process, the board will need to make some significant decisions.

“This is too big a decision to leave to just seven or eight people.”

The board is open to all kinds of ideas, Matthews said. “If somebody wanted to come in and buy this (building) and lease it back to us, we’re open.”

In the meantime, the chamber board will find a way to keep its utilities on and the Visitor Information Center open, Matthews said.

“All we are is a bunch of volunteers. The time, the energy, the value, the rate of return equation – there’s just a point where there’s just so much we can do. I’m willing to help try to get us out of this if possible.”

The members of the board have stepped up, Matthews said, but the chamber does need someone with an accounting background to help go through bank records and develop some kind of profit and loss statement.

Crabtree declined to comment Monday.

She is waiting for a return call from her attorney, she said. “As soon as I hear back from him, I’ll give you a call.”

For more information, call the chamber office at (541) 367-6186 or Matthews at (541) 367-1290. Matthews said that members of the public also may contact members of the board directly.

 
 

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