BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The allocation of additional funds from the county's hotel/motel tax prompted considerable discussion during Friday's meeting of the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee.
The committee voted to recommend to the Greene County Commission an additional $20,000 contribution to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center (NPAC) from the hotel/motel tax.
In recent years, the annual contribution has been $10,000.
The hotel/motel tax is considered "in and out" revenue, meaning that the amount brought in should be the same as the amount that goes out for whatever the tax funds.
In the case of the hotel/motel tax, a private act specifically dictates the use of these funds.
The tax, which is 7 percent added to the cost of a hotel or motel stay, is split in the following manner:
* 3 percent to be divided equally between economic development and tourism-related uses;
* 2 percent for general debt service;
* 1 percent for capital projects relating to recreation; and
* 1 percent for local support of the performing arts.
County Mayor Alan Broyles proposed the increase based on recent audits of the county funds, which found that the hotel/motel tax brought in about $371,000 last year.
One-seventh of that for the performing arts would be $53,000.
The county has already budgeted this year to bring in $52,500 for the performing arts, but has budgeted $58,310 in expenditures for this purpose.
However, Broyles noted that, in prior years, the county had brought in more revenues than were expended. As a result, the fund is expected to close the 2013-2014 fiscal year on June 30, 2014, with a nearly $40,000 fund balance.
But, because this is designed to be "in and out" revenue, he recommended that the commission further spend down this fund by allocating an additional $20,000 to the NPAC.
"That's money that we owe that's not being spent for the performing arts," Broyles said. "We need to keep some funds for the cash flow, but you have to draw the line as to about how much funds you need.
"That's the main center in town for the performing arts," the mayor said.
"They have all -- just about all -- of the shows in town. So it just makes sense that the performing arts center in Greeneville [and] Greene County gets the lion's share."
Other arts-related entities that already receive funding include the Dickson-Williams Mansion, the Central Ballet Theater, and the Nathanael Greene Museum.
The committee also discussed a request from the Greene County Partnership to reimburse a $5,000 expenditure by the GCP to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Golf National Championship Tournament, which took place in July.
Broyles noted that the county has funded this request in previous years, but that some feel it is not an appropriate use for the hotel/motel tax.
The committee reviewed the private act's wording, which states that one percent will fund "construction, renovation or maintenance of facilities, recreational pursuits, or the purchase of equipment."
While this is a recreational pursuit, it is designed for tourism purposes, rather than to serve the county citizens, Broyles noted.
Commissioner Robert Bird questioned how many local golfers participated and how much the Partnership paid the AAU.
Tourism Director Tammy Kinser said that there were 15 to 20 local golfers and several additional golfers from this Northeast Tennessee region out of approximately 65.
The $5,000 requested is the amount the Partnership paid to the AAU, which the AAU then pays back to local companies through rentals and other materials, Kinser said.
"We're looking at a huge trickle-down impact," she said. "Huge exposure."
As for the money the tournament generates back into the community through nights spent at hotels and motels, "probably 95 percent of it is spent inside the town of Greeneville," Bird said.
"That's a fight I fight every day," Kinser replied. "This is our opportunity."
"Everybody needs to know that," Bird said in response. "It doesn't need to be covered up."
He also questioned how the Partnership had spent $10,000 that the county allocated to fund the Gus Macker Tournament, which was later canceled.
"Did you spend it all, or did you turn it back in?" Bird asked.
Kinser said that, immediately after the event was canceled, she spoke with Broyles, and the Partnership agreed to put the funds toward the 2012 AAU tournament.
"So it was all used for recreation," she said.
The committee unanimously approved recommending the $20,000 expenditure for the NPAC to the County Commission, along with an additional vote that the money should be paid out in equal installments over three months.
County Budget Director Mary Shelton explained that this is necessary due to cash flow issues within the recreation portion of the fund, which has a much lower fund balance at $23,000.
In other business, the committee voted to recommend the following items to the County Commission for approval:
* budgeting $448,000 from the Tennessee Department of Education to the Greene County School System's General Fund for the purchase of Enterprise Wireless at nine schools and mobile laptop carts;
* budgeting a $30,000 grant from the Energy Efficient Schools Council for remotely-monitored thermostats;
* transferring $3,000 from the Solid Waste Fund's budget for fuel to the Property Assessor's budget for the sale to the Solid Waste Department of a vehicle from the assessor's office; and,
* budgeting a $1,500 grant from the state Division of Elections for updating software in the Greene County Election Commission's Office.