If the Ceres Chamber of Commerce seems more aggressive and serious about its mission these days, it's because Renee Ledbetter has taken over and changed some things.
The board is more aggressive and involved and it's refreshing to see.
The Chamber of Commerce started ramping up things last year about downtown revitalization efforts. Ledbetter was among those who began pressuring the city about why things weren't getting done in downtown after decades of talk and the spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Chamber gave its honest reflection that downtown has remained virtually the same in the past 25 years by offering to ramp up its efforts to foster private-public partnerships to get downtown looking nicer and thriving.
"The Chamber is ready to take charge for economic development for this community," Renee Ledbetter told the city at an Oct. 21 roundtable discussion attended by about 30 stakeholders.
Then when the Chamber held its annual Citizen of the Year and Installation Banquet last month, the attendance was bulging at the seams - something that has not happened in quite a while.
The Chamber rolled out a new website and established committees in the areas of Economic Development, Legislative and Government Affairs, Finance, Community Events, and Marketing & Membership. The Chamber has also enhanced its Ambassador program to welcome new businesses in town, help with membership and to gauge the pulse of existing business owners to see how the Chamber can help them grow their business.
Now the Chamber is embarking on an education campaign about the value of shopping in Ceres. It's a renewed effort like the one seen in the 1980s when the Chamber stressed "Try Ceres First."
It's a message of which Ceres residents need to be reminded. The reality is that every time a Ceres resident leaves town to do business, another community gets a share of those tax dollars.
Ceres receives approximately $4 million from sales tax allocations annually. It could receive more if more people shopped in Ceres.
Here's how it works: For every dollar spent on taxable goods in Ceres, shoppers pay a tax at the rate of 8.375 cents, one of the highest in Stanislaus County. That tax money is then divided upon among various governmental entities. This is the breakdown of where those 8.375 cents go:
• One penny goes to the city of Ceres and Stanislaus County;
• A half-cent goes to bolstering Ceres police and fire departments;
• Six cents goes to the state's general fund;
• A quarter of a cent goes to countywide transportation needs;
• A half-cent makes its way to the county's mental health obligations;
• An eighth-cent goes to the county library system, which includes the Ceres Library.
While it's true that more and more sales tax money is being siphoned off to the state, local sales tax revenue still is an important chunk of change for City Hall.
Consider too that shopping in Ceres also helps generate additional funds for police and fire protection through Measure H. Citizens of Ceres approved Measure H in 2007 - by a margin of 75.13 percent to 24.87 percent - to raise sales tax by a half-cent to fund police and fire services. Measure H funds are added to the already 75 percent of the general fund that goes to public safety.
The tax supports additional police officers and firefighters and has allowed for the formation of a new Street Crimes Unit, which has made a dent in drug trafficking and gangs.
Prior to the passage of Measure H, Ceres had an insufficient number of police officers patrolling the streets and that fire service was limited to just 24 firefighters with only eight on duty at any one time to protect the community of 42,000 residents. The measure has allowed Ceres to retain its public safety staff while other cities in the Valley have laid off employees.
Measure H funds are protected from state grabs and are put to use in Ceres for public safety. But the only way that Measure H coffers are filled is when sales are made in Ceres.
That's an important thing to consider next time you head off to Modesto or Turlock to do your shopping.
Keep in mind that the more robust the Ceres economy is, the more attractive it will become to other companies and more businesses from which to do business.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org