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Unicoi Co. Budget Committee cuts funding to several nonprofit agencies

Brad Hicks • Jul 30, 2014 at 5:11 PM

ERWIN — Just how difficult has the 2014-15 budget preparation process been for the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget Committee?

After examining each funding request the county has received from its nonprofit organizations, eliminating increased requests for funding by taking most of the requested amounts back to the 2013-14 level, and proposing cuts to the previous year’s figures, county officials found the total requests for nonprofits for the 2014-15 fiscal year are still higher than the total contributed the prior year.

Funding requests from various nonprofit organizations throughout the county were the focus of the committee’s attention at its Tuesday meeting. In an effort to trim the $626,563 shortfall the county is facing, cuts in funding to these organizations were proposed.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, around $293,000 in total nonprofit requests had been made to the county for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Before the committee began work to reduce this total, it discussed items listed as nonprofits that must be funded in the new fiscal year. These items total $130,846 and include $1,803 to the First Tennessee Development District, $21,500 to the Unicoi County Public Library, $17,209 to the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency and $89,534 to industrial development, which represents an increase of $40,639 from the 2013-14 funding level for industrial development.

New funding requests for the 2014-15 fiscal year were submitted by Recover Appalachia, an Erwin-based substance abuse prevention agency, and the Flag Pond Ruritan Club. At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners present opted not to provide funding to these organizations.

“I am definitely not for any new requests at all,” Budget Committee Chairman Mickey Hatcher said.

Excluding the items that must be funded, commissioners returned the nonprofit requests to the 2013-14 levels and proposed cutting funding at this level for many organizations.

County contributions to the Tennessee County Services Association, Tennessee County Commissioners Association, Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, and the county’s fire departments seeking funding — South Side Volunteer Fire Department, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department and Limestone Cove Volunteer Fire Department — were left unaltered from the 2013-14 amounts.

It was proposed that funding for Frontier Health, which received $10,600 in the 2013-14 fiscal year, be cut in half, with the organization to receive $5,300 from the county in 2014-15. Officials from the organization met with the committee prior to its discussion of nonprofits funding to discuss the services it provides. Funding was also halved for the Unicoi County YMCA, which received $4,750 in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

While funding the Unicoi County Public Library itself will remain at its 2013-14 amount of $21,500, requested funding for its Imagination Library was cut to $1,200, a reduction from the $2,375 contributed in 2013-14.

Soil Conservation received $5,173 in 2013-14, an amount that was trimmed to $2,500 for the new fiscal year. The committee also proposed halving the county’s contribution to the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber received $14,700 in 2013-14, an amount that could be reduced to $7,350 in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Commissioners opted Tuesday to eliminate all county funding to the Erwin Downtown Merchants Association and the town of Unicoi Business Alliance in the new fiscal year.

The committee also proposed cutting the entire $1,250 the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association received in 2013-14, cutting the Unicoi County Heritage Museum’s funding in half to $950, halving the county’s contribution to the Unicoi County Little League to $475, and halving funding to the Children’s Advocacy Center, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center.

When all was said and done, the committee proposed cutting $27,748 from the total 2013-14 nonprofit funding of $229,485. However, the additional $40,000 for industrial development caused non-profit funding to climb to $242,376, or around $13,000 higher even with the proposed cuts.

Although the consensus of commissioners present Tuesday was to approved the cuts, Commissioner Loren Thomas said more work needs to be done.

“I don’t think we’ve cut enough out of it because we’re still over $12,891 compared to what we funded last year,” Thomas said. “How can we get closer to not raising taxes if we’re going up.”

The committee will seek confirmation from Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett the nearly $27,800 in cuts to nonprofits will reduce the county’s 2014-15 shortfall.

Hatcher called upon fellow commissioners to think of possible cuts that can be made to the proposed 2014-15 budgets submitted by county officeholders for discussion when the ommittee next meets on Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

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