Meridian Main Street Money Woes

Meridian, Miss. Meridian Main Street is facing some major money woes. In August it was operating almost $30,000 in the red. That number has since been reduced by more than half.

Main Street officials say a combination of factors caused the problem.

"Well, we are better than we were just a few months ago," said Karen Rooney, executive director.

When Rooney took over the position, Main Street was $29,000 in debt. That has since been reduced to $10,000.

"We renegotiated our rent, and we have a lower rent," says Rooney. "Also, the salary. The salary was the big expense that changed."

Last October the Meridian Main Street board doubled the salary of the director at the time from $40,000 a year with no benefits, to $80,000 with an additional $500 a month for health-care benefits.

"The way we looked at it at that time was that on an extended time-line there would be an opportunity to improve the salary," says Meridian Main Street board chairman, Kenny Watts. "After a series of successes and growth, which we began to see, we had a major setback, and that's what compounded the problem. It became really obvious in June and July this year. Of course, that was on the heels of very close funding anyway. So, any little hiccup became bigger than what we would've foreseen."

The salary for the new Meridian Main Street director has since been reduced back to $40,000 a year with no benefits.

Meanwhile, when it comes to what caused the financial problems, Watts says corporate support for Meridian Main Street has also fluctuated over the last four years.

"We're starting a new membership drive in order to get the type of corporate support that we need because the people that benefit from this need to help us, to support us so that we can do the things that we need to do to grow downtown," says Rooney.

Despite its challenges, officials with Meridian Main Street say that good things are happening. In fact, the director says that she's been contacted by a developer who's interested in finding out more about the historic, and vacant, Threefoot Building in downtown. Also, next month the agency is planning to kickoff that fund-raising campaign and co-host a special workshop for entrepreneurs. Exact dates for those upcoming events are yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, to help Meridian Main Street, the city council has agreed to increase the city's contribution from $23,000 to $75,000. Meridian Main Street officials are continuing to talk with Lauderdale County supervisors about securing financial support from the county.