A business organization lauded for its success as a grassroots advertising cooperative is looking to broaden its appeal and is asking the village to help fund the effort.

Madison Street Merchants, or M2 as the group is commonly known, is requesting $20,000 in taxpayer funds to supplement revenues generated through membership fees. Primarily made up of business owners with shops located on Madison Street, M2 expects to take in some $37,000 in dues from its 44 members, according to a preliminary budget. That figure is well short of the organization’s typical budget of $52,000, hence the request, said Connie Brown, an organizing M2 member.

In asking for public funds, Brown said the group recognizes that expectations change. Since its inception in 2004, M2 has focused almost exclusively on promotional campaigns intended to drive customers to Madison Street. This year brings a new effort to collaborate with business owners elsewhere, including south of the Eisenhower Expressway on Roosevelt Road.

“There’s some benefits to the village for that because what we’re doing, we’re doing for the village as a whole,” said Brown, co-owner of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor.

Village Administrator Mike Sturino met with M2 members last month to discuss the request and said he isn’t sure when he might bring it to the council for a vote. His own lukewarm response is due largely to sticker shock, he said. As an advisor to the elected officials, Sturino said he’s not sure which fund the cash might come from.

“I think I can probably recommend to the council $5,000 for this,” Sturino said.

The municipality currently has $5,200 within its budget set aside for M2, said Sturino, but the organization has not collected on the offer. A similar amount was paid to the group in March of 2007, representing the most recent municipal allocation to M2, according to Sturino.

One possibility for any additional monies is to dig into an account – separate from the general fund – for which tax revenues collected from a particular neighborhood are set aside for improvements to that geographical area. Any money from these tax increment financing districts, or TIFs, would likely come with a number of village-imposed caveats, said Sturino, and even so, he’s not sure that TIF funds are the best fit for this request.

“Their marketing efforts have really paid off and we’d like to support that,” Sturino said.

That M2 is planning to expand its advertising beyond Madison Street could very well encourage council members to be more generous, but the request is sizable, said Sturino.

Commissioner Rory Hoskins said he has not seen any funding requests from M2 and will reserve judgment until such time. Hoskins, has however, been critical of what he sees as a lack of reinvestment in areas outside of Madison Street from both the municipality and the business groups. During a recent council discussion on the possibility of using public funds to acquire strategic properties near Madison Street, Hoskins – a south-side resident – stressed that Forest Parkers everywhere deserve to see their taxes returned to their neighborhoods.

“I live there and I just don’t see the same level of focus,” Hoskins said.

As part of M2’s long-term goal to represent business interests throughout town, the organization could eventually become a committee within the Chamber of Commerce and Development. Such a partnership, however, hinges on M2’s ability to incorporate non-Madison Street proprietors in its ranks.

If that merger were to occur, according to chamber Director Laurie Kokenes, M2 would retain its own budget but have the benefit of the chamber’s non-profit tax status. In return, the chamber gains a discernible presence.

“We have done a lot, and we continue to do a lot, but it’s not always visible and tangible,” Kokenes said.