By Donald Wittkowski
Three months after it appeared the two groups were close to reaching a compromise, a dispute continues between the Sea Isle City Tourism Commission and the Chamber of Commerce over a $17,000 debt from a publicity campaign launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Chamber members insisted their group does not owe the Tourism Commission any money from the 2013 multimedia advertising blitz, which let tourists know that Sea Isle was open for business following the October 2012 hurricane.
The “We’re Ready” campaign was designed to counter perceptions that the Jersey Shore was so severely damaged by Sandy that it would be shut down for the 2013 summer tourism season.
The Tourism Commission sent a letter in October to the Sea Isle Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization seeking a $17,000 payment for the remainder of the $67,000 advertising campaign. Previously, the Chamber had paid the Tourism Commission about $50,000.
The remaining $17,000 debt was discussed during the Chamber’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday. Chamber leaders said the organization doesn’t owe the Tourism Commission any more money. They argued that the debt is the responsibility of the Tourism Commission.
“Why are we paying someone else’s bill?” asked Christopher Glancey, the Chamber president. “We don’t owe the city. We don’t owe anybody.”
The dispute over the money appeared to be resolved in December when the Chamber sent a letter to the Tourism Commission proposing that both sides would collaborate with the city to hold fundraisers to pay off the debt.
However, Glancey said during Tuesday’s Chamber meeting that the Tourism Commission hasn’t responded to the letter three months later.
James Bennett, chairman of the Tourism Commission, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In an interview in December, Bennett said he was receptive to the Chamber’s proposal for fundraisers and expressed confidence both sides could work together.
Bennett also praised the Chamber in December for the “wonderful job” it has done so far to pay for the advertising campaign.
He explained that the city fronted the money for the $67,000 campaign, but that the Chamber had been paying it off since 2013.
The publicity campaign was a joint effort between the city, the Tourism Commission and the Chamber to lure tourists back to Sea Isle following the hurricane.
So far, the Chamber has reimbursed the Tourism Commission about $50,000, but stopped making payments three years ago, leaving about $17,000 unpaid.
When the Chamber’s payments stopped, the city began tapping the Tourism Commission’s budget to pay for the debt, Bennett said. The Tourism Commission, a public body, is an arm of the city government.
Faced with growing financial pressures, the commission sent a letter to the Chamber in October asking it to repay the money. The Chamber replied with its own letter in December disputing “the assertion that there is an outstanding (debt) payable to the Tourism Commission.” But in the same letter, the Chamber proposed collaborating on fundraisers to pay off the debt.
Glancey said the $17,000 is the Tourism Commission’s responsibility because it exceeded the $50,000 budget for the advertising campaign. The $17,000 mostly went for billboards and videos that promoted Sea Isle in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Chamber said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mike Monichetti, a Chamber member and owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant, urged the Chamber to pay off the debt. He said the issue would simply linger until the money is paid.
“I just don’t like having garbage in my rearview mirror like that,” Monichetti said, referring to the debt.
Glancey and John Fee, the Chamber’s vice president, told Monichetti that the Chamber has fulfilled its responsibility and does not owe any more money.
Chamber member Brian Heritage, owner of Heritage Surf & Sport, suggested that the Chamber should pay a third of the $17,000, with the city and the Tourism Commission picking up the rest of the debt. Heritage said he would like for all sides to have a meeting to “iron it out.”