Commission debates cutting funding for Carter County Tomorrow

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Carter County Tomorrow came under fire Monday morning as members of the Carter County Commission debated cutting funding for the agency and ultimately decided to send the funding to the budget committee for consideration.

During the committee reports portion of the commission’s regular monthly meeting, Commissioner Robert Gobble asked to address the group. Carter County Tomorrow is not making progress in its mission to bring jobs to Carter County, Gobble said.

“We’ve done this program for seven years, and I say it’s high time we stop funding it in favor of something that works,” Gobble said. He then made a motion that the County stop funding the agency immediately, which was seconded by Commissioner Robert Carroll.

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Several commissioners echoed Gobble’s criticism of the agency, while others defended the work being done by CCT and its director Tom Anderson.

“I’ve been here for nine years, and I think this is not money well spent,” Commissioner Nancy Brown said of the county funding for the agency. Many times, county officials are not kept informed of what is going on with CCT, she added.

“I want to know how many jobs this Mr. Anderson has brought in, because I don’t know of any if he has,” Commissioner Ronnie Trivett said. “I say we don’t fund him next year.”

Commissioner Robert Carroll, who like Gobble represents most of the city residents on the commission, brought up recent discussion by the City of Elizabethton to hire an outside organization to serve as retail development agency for the city. During the 2014-15 budget cycle, members of city council also debated pulling funding from Carter County Tomorrow but ultimately decided to continue working with the agency.

CCT has not shown progress in the field of economic development, Carroll said. “What I’m saying is either give us something or get off the pot,” he said.

Commissioner L.C. Tester cautioned the group against making a decision based simply on a perception that no progress is being made. “The fact is industry left this nation, not just this state or this county,” Tester said, adding that CCT has worked to help the county retain industries already located here.

Members of the group heard a plea from Commissioner Danny Ward, who also serves as vice chairman of the CCT board, as he asked his fellow commissioners to avoid making a snap decision that could hurt the county. “I beg you, please do not take funding for Carter County Tomorrow away,” he said. “Give us a chance to work together.”

Funding for CCT is already in the 2014-15 budget, said Commissioner Sonja Culler, who serves as chairwoman of the budget committee. Culler also touted the partnership between the county and the city in working together for economic development. “This is a committee of the county and the city and it is important we keep this committee,” she said.

Members of the commission asked Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey for his opinion since as county mayor he serves on the CCT Board. Humphrey also pointed out that since money is already in the budget this fiscal year the agency is funded but the county could consider funding for the next year when the budget cycle begins in May.

“Everything we do there needs to be a return on the investment. There has been an insignificant return on that investment in the time that I have been on the board,” Humphrey said. “The question is have we spent our money wisely? I can just tell you what we have done has not been effective.”

By statute, the county is required to have an economic development board and CCT currently fills that role, Humphrey said. If the county decides not to participate in CCT next fiscal year, the county must come up with a plan to for a new economic development board.

During the debate, Humphrey asked Gobble if since CCT was already funded for this fiscal year if he would amend his motion to send CCT funding to the budget committee for consideration. Gobble agreed to the amendment.

The commission voted 19-3 to send the agency’s funding to the budget committee. Commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Brown, Mike Hill, Al Meehan, Trivett, Charles Von Cannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, Ward, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, larry Miller, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Carroll, Gobble and Cody McQueen. Commissioners Tester, Culler and John Lewis voted against sending the matter to the budget committee.