|County Budget Committee looks to other committees for cuts|
|Thursday, September 6, 2012|
By PATRICK HALL
Wilson County Commission Budget Committee will charge the respective committees with reviewing the 2012-2013 budget and cutting “waste” from departments in order to balance the budget approved in August and took no action to restore funding to the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“There will be some departments that can cut and others that can’t cut anything,” said District 23 Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Ash.
Ash proposed sending the budget approved in the Aug. 27 commission meeting to the commission’s committees to review with department heads and find places to cut from those departmental budgets.
The committee unanimously agreed and said the respective committees must review budgets line-by-line and find the cuts that would reduce the budget but not sacrifice services.
“This is time to do your job,” Ash said, referring to various committees.
District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice said now was not the time for committees to “rubber stamp” budgets. Finance Director Aaron Maynard said the General Fund has expenditures that exceed revenues in the amount of $837,470.
During the Aug. 27 commission meeting, squires approved a 7 cent tax increase that would send four cents of that to improve the General Fund. The remaining 3 cents is to pay off debt incurred from building Watertown High School.
Justice said he wanted to be sure that essential services were not cut and that they didn’t pass a tax increase just to cut the services the county provides.
“We raised taxes to keep services, not for a savings account,” Justice said.
While Maynard disagreed with Justice, he said the county could “tread water” another year before major services would have to be cut. But the committee felt they should let the government’s committee process handle making cuts of unnecessary spending.
The committee pointed out they were tackling an issue that has never been dealt with in Wilson County, as far as they remembered. Mayor Randall Hutto said the county’s budget has never been balanced as they are trying to do.
“What we’re doing now is trying to balance a budget that hasn’t been balanced ever,” he said. “We can’t say we’re in terrible shape, but we have to provide services and we’ve got to balance the difference.”
Earlier in the meeting, the committee heard from Wilson County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau Director Ricky Rodriguez on why the county should keep the tourism bureau. On Aug. 27, squires cut the bureau in order to save the county $204,000.
Rodriguez said he hoped to “sway the decision that was made at the last committee meeting.” He said tourism is a big financial asset for Wilson County and noted the things the bureau does are often difficult to put on paper.
In addition to recruiting events and groups to come to Wilson County, Rodriguez said he services groups and meetings when they are here and said they distribute information to those inquiring about visiting or relocating to Wilson County.
However the committee was skeptical of how they could quantify the impact the bureau has on Wilson County. Ash asked how many people who stay in Wilson County hotels are there due to the bureau. He said the majority of people filling hotel rooms here are those traveling down Interstate 40.
“It’s nearly impossible to say any one entity is responsible for making a visitor stay,” Rodriguez admitted.
Economist Dr. Steve Morse from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville said tourism is defined as people who come outside of the county to “inject money” into the local economy. He pointed at 940 jobs, $3.3 million in local taxes generated by the tourism industry.
“Good tourism communities make good relocation communities for businesses,” Morse said.
Morse said tourists spent $115.2 million in Wilson County in 2011, a number that has increased from $61.7 million in 2001. He said the tourism and hospitality industries account for 12.5 percent of local jobs, up from 8.4 percent in 2001.
“How much do you think Mr. Rodriguez brought in of this,” said District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford.
Morse said he could not pinpoint one cause behind the tourism dollars, but said there are studies they could run in order to determine that. He said the numbers given to committee members were for “all tourist dollars, regardless of how they got here.”
“If you remove the Convention & Visitors Bureau, those numbers will drop,” he said.
Committee members asked representatives from the local Chambers of Commerce if they could take over the job of the bureau if it remains unfunded. Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber President and CEO Sue Vanatta said the bureau was founded by that chamber and said they hired Rodriguez, but the bureau was moved outside the chamber and under the county.
She said the chamber could take on the duties the bureau currently has and said they do a lot of promotion for tourism already. However, Mt. Juliet/West Wilson Chamber Board Chairman David Rhodes said that chamber could not handle the job that Rodriguez currently performs.
The committee took no action that would restore funding for the Convention & Visitors Bureau during the meeting.