Carter County Budget Committee hears of economic impact of COVID-19 on local charities

John Thompson • May 5, 2020 at 8:06 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Carter County was a dominant theme at the meeting of the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission on Monday evening.

The meeting was the annual hearing the committee holds with outside agencies, charities and other organizations who receive some funding from the county in their mission of providing services to Carter Countians, such as the elderly, children or others.

Many of the agency presenters discussed the hardships that COVID-19 has presented these organizations, especially in disrupting normal sources of contributions, such as church congregations and in unexpected increases in the demand for services.

One of the most dramatic impacts was described by Paul Gabinet, executive director of the Shepherd’s Inn, the county’s only domestic violence shelter. Cabinet said demand for the shelter’s rooms and beds for the first quarter of 2019 was unusually light. Demand dropped to only 68 rooms and beds for the quarter. That was a drop from 104 in 2018.

He said that decline certainly turned around in 2020. With the quarantine and families remaining in close quarters for a long time, domestic violence has increased demand to 1,089 beds and rooms for the first quarter of 2020.

While the demand has increased exponentially, the agency’s revenues have dropped, as contributions from churches have declined because churches have cancelled meetings. The shelter’s fundraisers have also been cancelled because they could not be held because of the need for social distancing. That was particularly true of the big fundraiser held with the spring NASCAR race held at Bristol.

The same was true at many other organizations, such as the Elizabethton Senior Center, the Assistance and Resource Ministry and Kids Like Us.

While requests for donations from the county has gone up during the emergency, it also appeared that many organizations realized the county’s resources have also been adversely affected by the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Requests were modest.

The county contributed $1,030,341 to outside agencies this year. The total increase from all those agencies was $177,939.

Some of the biggest increases was from the volunteer fire departments. Chief David Jones of the West Carter County Volunteer Fire Department spoke for all seven volunteer departments in the county. He said all the departments have recently had to replace fire trucks and asked for an additional $5,000 per department to help with payments on the trucks. The Butler Volunteer Fire Department requested that its funding from the county be returned to $20,000. It was cut to $5,000 this year.

Other large increases were made from the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library, which is seeking a $20,212 increase from its current $75,000 and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, which is seeking a return to the $40,000 it was under two years ago. The funding was halved this year.

Smaller agencies did seek small increases. The Assistance Resources Ministry asked for its funding to be increased from $5,000 to $10,000 and the Elizabethton Senior Center asked for an increase from $20,000 to $25,000.