BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Each year for the past several decades, the Greene County government has made contributions to various nonprofit area agencies and organizations that in recent years have totaled nearly $700,000 annually.
Some of the agencies are emergency related.
Part of the total comes from the County General Fund. The other part comes from the county's 7 percent tax on local hotel and motel bills.
This total amount represents 1.7 percent of the county's $41 million in appropriations, excluding the school system's $45 million budget.
The contributions have been made in response to annual requests from the agencies that are based on their revenue needs.
For 2013-2014, the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee has announced that the committee will not recommend to the County Commission any requests from the organizations for increased donations -- and may consider reducing the requested appropriations by some percentage.
County Mayor Alan Broyles has called for a review of the contributions, asking the committee to consider if the county should use taxpayer funds to support agencies.
He has, however, urged support for the contributions made by the county to first responders.
FROM COUNTY GENERAL FUND
The county contributed $445,000 to various agencies this year from the County General Fund, the fund from which most county departments operate. (Please see related articleon this page.)
This total was down significantly from the 2011-2012 contributions due to the county's not receiving the annual $30,000 request from the Greeneville-Greene County Airport.
Janet Malone, chairman of the Greeneville-Greene County Municipal Airport Authority, has said that she submitted the request and is still seeking the $30,000 contribution for this year, as well as next.
County Mayor Alan Broyles and Budget Director Mary Shelton both state that they did not receive the request, which Malone said was submitted electronically.
Malone said recently that she places no blame and that she did not follow up at that time due to a family illness.
Both the county and Malone have apologized for the confusion, but the committee has not discussed whether they will grant the funding request for the current fiscal year.
REQUEST FROM 911
During a called meeting on Wednesday, the Budget & Finance Committee heard from one of the agencies to which the county makes an annual contribution from the General Fund: the Greene County Emergency Communications District (ECD), which operates the 911 emergency telephone system for the county.
The committee approved an increase to this contribution in 2011-2012, when the appropriation went from $94,683 to $120,000.
County commissioner and committee member Robert Bird said Wednesday that he recalled this increase to have been only temporary.
Bird has called on the committee to take a "hard look" at the various contributions in light of projected deficits for the coming year in several county funds,
At his request, ECD Director Jerry Bird joined the committee on Wednesday to explain the ongoing request for $120,000 instead of $95,000.
Jerry Bird had previously told the committee that decreases in revenue to the ECD had resulted from the public's increased use of cell phones instead of land-based telephone lines.
Companies which operate cell phone networks do not include in their bills a fee for 911 services.
This fact, combined with increases in depreciation charges, led to an ECD budget deficit that, in turn, prompted the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB) to declare the local ECD "at risk."
Following the county's increased contribution for 2011-12, combined with a $40,000 contribution from the Town of Greeneville, Jerry Bird said on Wednesday that the state allowed the ECD to continue operating without state intervention.
Currently, ECDs across the state are working to add a 911 fee to cell phone bills in the same way that land lines carry a tax, but the ECDs have not yet been successful in that effort.
As a result, the Greene County ECD has only been able to maintain a $700,000 fund balance, Jerry Bird said, an amount which is well below the $900,000 fund balance that the state requuires.
Avoiding state intervention (such as combining Greene County 911 services with another county's services) requires the county and town to maintain the $120,000 and $40,000 contributions as a "minimum," he added.
Besides the contributions made to some agencies from the County General Fund, additional contributions are made from the proceeds of the county's 7 percent hotel/motel tax on local hotel and motel bills.
According to the private act of the Tennessee General Assembly by which the Motel/Hotel Tax was created, the proceeds from the 7 percent tax on room bills must be allocated as follows:
* 3 percent is allocated to the General Fund for use by the Greene County Partnership, to be divided equally between economic development and tourism-related uses;
* 2 percent is allocated to the county's General Debt Service Fund; and,
* 2 percent is allocated to the Economic Development Fund, to be divided equally between capital projects relating to recreation and local support for the performing arts.
In the current budget year, the 3 percent allocation to the Greene County Partnership for economic development and tourism was estimated at $167,000.
In the current budget year, the 2 percent allocation to the Economic Development Fund provided $79,000 in grants related to either recreation or the performing arts.