January 19, 2012

OCTAVE errs on chamber accusation

Defends other criticisms of business license

By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Jan. 19, 2012

Insinuations that the Elgin Chamber of Commerce somehow concealed about 130 member businesses from the city administration when it began its business license program are false, BocaJump learned Wednesday afternoon.

The special interest group Elgin OCTAVE has been pressuring the City Council to dump the business license and publicly has offered a litany of criticisms of the program. But on Tuesday morning, Chuck Keysor, one of OCTAVE’s founders, wrote in an email to supporters and other interested parties that a Freedom of Information Act request he filed with the city revealed documents indicating “the chamber of commerce provided the original list of Elgin businesses to the city, around which the business license program was built. But amazingly, that list was missing about 130 of the chamber's own members! And not only were they not on the first list; they are still not on the newest list received two weeks ago!

“Are you shocked and disturbed yet?!”

Wednesday afternoon, Keysor expressed genuine surprise upon learning that the city purchased the database list of businesses from infoUSA, a company the city had been referred to by the chamber for such information. The chamber did not provide the list to the city.

Keysor acknowledges error

One of the Freedom of Information Act documents Keysor cited in his criticism of the chamber included a breakdown of the city’s costs for initiating the business license. The list of businesses cited in that document cost the city $1,000, and the reference includes after it the parenthetical statement, “per the Chamber of Commerce,” which could be construed in several different ways. The document did not list infoUSA as the vendor, however.

“If the chamber didn't create the business list, then this one complaint about the chamber and the business license is baseless, and you can quote me as saying that,” Keysor wrote in an email Wednesday evening. “And, you can even quote me as saying I am sorry. I was operating off of my reading of the FOIA, which was logical.”

Chamber did not provide list

Both chamber of commerce and city officials on Wednesday afternoon identified infoUSA as the source of the city’s list of local businesses.

“The original database list used for identifying businesses was purchased from infoUSA who is a major supplier of mailing and sales lists,” Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce President Carol Gieske explained in an email. “The city purchased the list and downloaded it. We recommended that this supplier would be a starting point for the city to gather the data as we had purchased lists from them years ago.”

Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal echoed Gieske. He identified infoUSA as a private sector company that compiles business information for sale to the public. The database infoUSA provided to the city, Kozal wrote in an email, was used to generate the mailing addresses for the original business license notification letters.

“The businesses identified in the infoUSA database were cross-referenced with the city’s water accounts prior to the mailing,” Kozal said. “I am not certain as to what Mr. Keysor is referring to when alleging the ‘chamber omitted some 130 of its own members from the list of business it submitted to the city,’ so I cannot opine on that list’s accuracy.”

License established in late 2009

The City Council established the business license in late 2009 to generate revenue to pay Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Neighborhood Association for economic development activities after the city cut its own economic development staff in a belt-tightening move.

Before that, the two agencies had received a combined total of nearly $195,000 through their annual purchase of services agreement with the city. That total was increased to $535,000 in 2010, and city officials had hoped the business license would generate enough revenue to cover that entire amount.

The license fees, however, generated only a little more than half that. The fees are based upon a business’ square footage, from $35 for a business with up to 999 square feet to $595 for businesses whose square footage exceeds 40,000 square feet.

City officials said in September that the license fee has been averaging about $130 per business.

For 2012, the city reduced the chamber’s funding to $275,000 from $400,000 last year, and the Downtown Neighborhood Association has chosen to fund itself this year through the downtown tax increment financing district.

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