If the city doesn’t support its community the community will not survive

September 10, 2020

Try as we might, it’s taking some effort to get used to “attending” City Council’s virtual “Zoom” meetings, right? While I was uncomfortable at first, I’m beginning to discover some advantages. For one, you can really see facial expressions. From disdain, disagreement, and discomfort to occasional relaxed smiles, which unfortunately are few, Council meetings have become a study in human expression. Much is communicated when they’re so up close.

It seems the topic most uncomfortable for them is Brooksville Main Street, mostly when Ms. Erhard brings it up, which manages to happen even when BMS is not on the City Council agenda. Whether it’s about dollars, certain individuals, events, economic development, banners, tip jars, bank accounts, road closures, insurance, etc., etc., she brings up Brooksville Main Street.

Meanwhile, the other members, in varying degrees, seem to appreciate that BMS is becoming a force for positive change in the city. They might be having pertinent and appropriate discussions about city concerns including about BMS, but always, no matter how appropriate and reasoned the discussion may be, it invariably gets muddled when Ms. Erhard’s predictably sarcastic voice breaks in to say something completely out of context about BMS.

Again, we ask, why is she so completely focused on destroying the best thing that’s come along for the city’s business and residential communities in years? At a recent Council meeting, dozens of letters supporting BMS were read into the record. Ms. Erhard’s reaction was to “blame” it on BMS rather than recognize that the Community wants to be heard. You’ll see BMS smiling every time it happens. (Thanks, by the way, to those who voiced their thoughts so strongly and clearly. Hopefully, Council Members are listening.)

One thought she keeps harping on which may be incorrectly resonating a bit among the other members is this: to her, funding grants to BMS are some sort of charitable largesse which should end at some point when BMS becomes “self-sustaining.” Let’s be clear about this, Brooksville Main Street is not a business looking for a profit to sustain itself. It is a NON-PROFIT organization run by Executive Director Natalie Kahler, Marketing and Events Coordinator Tina Marie Polson, and a large group of volunteers who receive neither pay nor profit from their involvement. Their clearly defined program is to do all they can to help the Brooksville downtown become a viable and thriving economic center while preserving and enhancing its unique natural and historical charm. To do this, they follow a national blueprint successfully implemented by hundreds of cities nationwide.

Based on the concept that buy-in breeds success, that blueprint urges local programs to seek funding from local governments, the private sector, and from the organization’s own efforts at fundraising events and activities, each contributing about a third of the cost of the program. It is not designed to be self-sustaining. The city’s contributions to Main Street are to help the community. If the city doesn’t support its community, the community will not survive economically. And it’s not all about financial backing. What Brooksville Main Street is trying so hard to do is to PARTNER with the City. The financial aspect, while important for reasons discussed in past posts, is only one part of what Main Street is asking for from the City. What It really wants is to move forward with projects in cooperation with the City to everyone’s benefit, whether it be events, supporting redevelopment efforts, or downtown improvements, small and large. What Brooksville Main Street really needs from the City is a “we like your ideas and enthusiasm and want to help” attitude rather than the antagonistic relationship that Ms. Erhard seems intent on fostering.

And this needs to be said: The things that Main Street does are done for the community, not city government. But since many of its activities are those the city perhaps would like to be doing but aren’t able to for various reasons, when BMS does them, it’s a favor to the City as much as it is to the community. Things like promoting the city’s businesses and building a sense of community among the businesses and residents lifts everyone up and should be welcomed by the city rather than questioned at every turn. Buy-in gives everyone ownership in the hard work of success, livability, economic viability, and just plain joy of being a part of it all.

And here’s a very pertinent point: when BMS is out there getting it done, it’s doing it for a lot less money than what it would cost the city. The success of Main Street is measured by the hard work of two paid employees and 189 unpaid volunteers who contribute thousands of hours of personal time freely given. These are volunteers who offer an amazing variety of professional skills including architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, artists, musicians, marketing personnel and more. This is what the city gets for the $45,000 of support funding BMS has requested. Compare this amount to the cost they’re estimating to get their own economic development program up and running now at a minimum of $131,000 and the questions regarding the value of funding for BMS becomes even more confusing.  Imagine how much further a city economic development arm could go with BMS by its side rather than starting from scratch. And you can't tell me that those volunteers who so regularly support BMS would be eager to volunteer for a city run economic development program. It’s just not how government programs work. But it is how public/ private partnerships work and how it should work between the City and BMS.

But wait, last week City Council voted to cut the amount it will budget for Main Street next year to half the amount requested to $22,500. What does that mean? It means, Brooksville Main Street will have to decide what it can still afford to do, and not do, on behalf of the community.

But you know what? The money’s important, of course. Critical, in fact. The really unfortunate thing, however, is that it seems to keep the city and BMS from forming an alliance that will truly benefit the community. It appears that some just cannot grasp what BMS is all about and the important role it can play for the city as a whole. It isn’t a pipedream. It’s a proven program. But maybe that tunnel has a light. All the candidates running in the coming election for City Council have indicated their support for Brooksville Main Street. So, will the city’s reluctance to join BMS in its work for the community be changing in a few months?  Let’s keep our hopes up.

In any scenario that may be coming forward, be assured, BMS looks forward to partnering with the City to help keep its costs as low as possible. As willing and supportive partners, so much more that needs to be done, can be done, and will be done for the great community of Brooksville.

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

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