Hotel/Motel Tax Question Sent Back
To County Budget & Finance Comm.
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
"You should really figure this out."
That was the basic message to the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee from a special committee formed to address recent controversy surrounding the county's hotel and motel tax.
County Mayor Alan Broyles formed that committee, chaired by Commissioner Bill Moss, to study the manner in which the county allocates the tax.
The mayor's action followed recent reports that the Niswonger Performing Arts Center (NPAC) has not been receiving its originally-intended share.
The committee, Moss said at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, was to form a recommendation for the Budget & Finance Committee.
But after hearing from most of those organizations receiving a portion of the tax, the committee adjourned Tuesday.
Several people asked what the committee's recommendation is after Moss called for adjournment of the three-member committee, which also includes Commissioners Jan Kiker and Jimmy Sams.
"We have no specific recommendation, except that [the Budget & Finance Committee] take a hard look at the various [allocations] and attempt to get everything in the right pot," Moss replied.
"We have no authority to allocate; the Budget & Finance Committee does [have the authority to allocate] ... subject to the Commission's approval."
The Budget & Finance Committee sent a resolution to the County Commission for approval in December that would have budgeted all the county's revenue from the hotel/motel tax's allocation for "performing arts" to NPAC.
This committee recommended the change after hearing from Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger and from county commissioners who said funding NPAC was the only intended use of that portion of the tax when the county increased the tax in 2004.
Niswonger contributed $5.2 million of the $7 million cost of the center.
The resolution to increase the tax mentioned the words "performing arts" but reportedly failed to include the word "center."
As a result, county commissioners have budgeted monies from this portion not only to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center but also to other local performing arts organizations in the years since the tax was increased.
NPAC a state-of-the-art performing arts facility which formally opened in December 2004, currently receives $10,000 annually from this portion of the tax.
Extensive discussion of the subject in the County Commission's Republican caucus meeting in December prompted the commission to pull the resolution from the agenda at the start of the December commission meeting in order to further study the issue in an ad hoc committee.
As the proposal stood in December, the county would have stopped making several annual contributions, including:
* $7,500 to the Dickson-Williams Historical Association;
* $7,350 to the Nathanael Greene Museum; and
* $1,960 to the Central Ballet Theatre.
An annual $30,650 education bond payment to the county's Education Debt Service Fund would have continued through the remainder of the time the county has committed to make these payments -- three more years after this year.
Those payments are for the county's portion of the band rooms at North Greene and South Greene high schools, which were made possible through a "Spotlight on Learning" partnership with the Niswonger Foundation.
AD HOC MEETING
With the potential for a recommendation to shift funds, reduce funds or stop funds altogether, Tuesday's ad hoc committee meeting was well attended.
In addition to the three-member committee:
* Wilhelmina Williams and Greeneville Alderman Sarah Webster were present in support of the Nathanael Greene Museum and Dickson-Williams Historical Association;
* Butch Patterson and Brad Peters were present in support of the Greeneville Parks & Recreation Department's annual $29,400 funding from the "recreational" portion of the tax;
* Scott Niswonger was present in support of NPAC, but also represented the General Morgan Inn and the band room agreement;
* Greene County Partnership President and CEO Tom Ferguson and Tourism Director Tammy Kinser were present in support of the Partnership's portion for tourism and economic development; and,
* representatives of the General Morgan Inn and Hampton Inn were present in support of the tax revenue's being used to fund those items that bring visitors to the county.
Committee members and Commissioner Robin Quillen, who was also present, acknowledged the significance of each individual's argument for funding.
All agreed that NPAC had not received the funding the county had promised.
"In my opinion, there was a commitment, and we need to live up to that," Moss said.
The matter will now return to the Budget & Finance Committee for further review.