Budget Committee votes to cut funding for Elizabethton Senior Center and other non-emergency outside agencies
Published 12:50 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023
BY ROBERT SORRELL
The Carter County Budget Committee recently decided to cut funding for non-emergency outside agencies, affecting budgets of organizations like the Elizabethton Senior Center.
“Basically, the decision was reached to limit the amount of property tax increase for next year,” said Budget Committee Chairman Aaron Frazier.
During recent meetings, committee members discussed funding just a handful of outside agencies, but in the end, Frazier said the change was insignificant.
“So the motion was to just fund the first responder agencies and the rest come back later,” Frazier said.
The committee approved funding volunteer fire departments and the Carter County Rescue Squad, which the county recently approved a new contract for.
Frazier said he expects most organizations, including the Senior Center, which annually requests $26,500, will return at the July budget meeting. The county’s finance director is sending outside agencies a letter about returning to ask for money again.
In some cases, Frazier said he believes that due to funding from the county budget, some agencies don’t do enough to fund raise or seek grants. But he said he does not feel that way about the Senior Center, Shepherds Inn and others.
Senior Center Executive Director Brittany Shell said her organization has not asked for an increase in funding from the county in years. She noted that about 58% of its members are county residents.
“Without critical funding, the senior center would need to close several days per week and would have to limit services offered,” Shell said.
She said hot meals would not be available five days a week. She added, “Education, recreation, resource connection, health activities would not be as assessable to folks who would otherwise not have access.”
Refusing to fund the center would eventually lead to it shutting down, Shell said, noting that it is the only senior specific resource in Carter County.
The Senior Center, which has a total budget of $126,187, currently receives $45,000 from the city of Elizabethton, even though Shell noted the county has a majority of members. The organization also receives $15,00 from the United Way and $9,760 from the First Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability.
Shell said about 16% of its budget is from affordable membership dues, donations, grants and fundraising. Shell said she and her assistant are the only full-time employees and they work without health benefits.
“We keep our seniors healthy, engaged and aging independently in the community,” Shell said.
Some members travel to the Senior Center five days a week from Roan Mountain via public transit. These individuals, she said, are low income and receive help from the Senior Center. They receive a hot meal and an assortment of other resources, including socialization, she said.
“These are the people that will be impacted by this decision,” Shell said. “The most vulnerable, who are not being thought about. Our seniors absolutely deserve better than this.”
Shell said that when she presented her budget to the county committee in March she advised members to visit the center and get to know the organization and its grant writing and fundraising efforts.
“But the Budget Committee and commissioners have not made any effort to know the non-profits they are about to pull the rug from under,” Shell said. “They don’t know the real work agencies like us do. It’s a shame they are voting and have no real understanding of how important the Senior Center and other agencies are in this community.”