AZTEC — This city's Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization that helps area businesses succeed, is on the verge of closing its doors.
Since May, the chamber has been without an executive director. Former director Christa Rommé gave notice in January, but efforts to fill her position have been unsuccessful.
Three board members resigned at the end of June and two others resigned at the end of last year for personal reasons. The vacancies have left only a handful of volunteers who struggle to keep the business-support organization running without leadership or a functioning board of directors.
One of those people is ex officio board member Sally Burbridge who sounded the alarm in a "Call to Action" letter published late Wednesday on the Chamber of Commerce's website.
Burbridge is the mayor of Aztec, but said she was speaking as a small business owner.
"If we do not have an energized and active membership for the Aztec Chamber of Commerce, the honest alternative is to begin the process of shutting the organization down between now and June 30, 2014," Burbridge wrote. "While this may sound drastic, let's be honest and not waste anyone's time -- We either need to come together as a membership and use the organization to benefit and assist our businesses or we should move our resources of time, money and energy to other endeavors that will benefit each business owner."
The chamber's annual budget is $25,000. The funds are collected from some events but mostly from dues paid by active members of the organization who pay according to their business' number of employees, Rommé said. For example, a business with one to three employees -- the most common type of small business in Aztec -- pays $140 each year in dues as an active member.
Though she has been marketing coordinator for Four Corners Economic Development since May, Rommé never really left the struggling chamber even though she was no longer being paid director's annual salary of $19,000. She continues to volunteer for the chamber by updating its website, answering emails and attending meetings, among other duties.
"We're not mad at anyone or resentful, but maybe the majority of businesses in the community don't need us," Rommé said. "I was constantly trying to reach out (to businesses) asking what we could do to help promote them, but they would always say ,'I don't know.' It was difficult to get enough buy-in."
Of the roughly 30 businesses along Main Avenue in the historic downtown district, only seven or eight would participate in events the Chamber organized, a frustration and mathematical death knell to economic growth and promotion, Rommé said.
In her three years as director, Rommé says the economic downturn and hurt feelings from her predecessor made cohesion between the chamber and local businesses difficult. Her efforts, she says, were further undermined shortly after her arrival when the city absorbed the Chamber's tourism responsibilities and the $4,500 per month used for those activities, which included two part-time staff workers.
"But this is the time to do something, for people to step up, or else (the Chamber) is going to fold," she said.
Only two others besides Rommé and Burbridge remain actively involved with the group -- Larry Turk, Superintendent of Aztec Ruins, and Bryan Vincent of Aztec Urgent Care.
"Let's stop pretending," Burbridge said. "I think there's a future for the chamber, but none of us needs an extra job."
A Nov. 21 lunch-hour meeting at the Aztec School District offices will likely decide if a chamber of commerce has a place in Aztec.
"I have sympathy for the businesses that have really been involved," Rommé said. "I feel obligated to them, which is why I still try to help. But the whole thing can't continue on the backs of only a few people."