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Cuts to JEDB budget raise concerns

The Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) met on Friday, July 17, to address issues moving forward for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Among the topics discussed during the meeting was the recent decision by the Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee to cut the JEDB’s budget request of more than $80,000 to $48,895, which could potentially harm the development of the economic avenues not only in the county, but for the towns of Erwin and Unicoi. The county provided $48,895 in funding to the JEDB during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
The issue of funding the JEDB became apparent last year when the county was unable to fulfill its share of funding for the budget. County Mayor Greg Lynch stated in a recent budget work sessions that the county’s inability to secure the funding for the group could make the county unable to receive grants from the state, along with the possibility of losing jobs in the community.
According to a memo provided to The Erwin Record, in 2014 the Tennessee Attorney General’s office issued an opinion which said: “If a participating government member has not funded its full share of the Joint Board’s budget, including any increase of the prior year’s budget, the participating government is rendered ineligible for state grants from the beginning of the fiscal year for which that budget was adopted and may be sanctioned by the Joint Board.
“The county commission must still appropriate the county’s contribution. The statute penalizes a local government that does not contribute by making it ineligible for state grants. There is a rational basis for withholding state grants from a city or county that is not funding its share of a Joint Board’s budget. The local government is not cooperating with local governments within the county to engage in long-range planning.”
The amount paid by each government entity from the county and both towns comes from a formula presented by the Tennessee Code Annotated. It states: “The formula for determining the amount of funds due from each participating government shall be determined by adding the population of the entire county as established by the last federal decennial census to the populations of each city as determined by the last federal decennial census . . . and then determining the percentage that the population of each governmental entity bears to the total amount.”
The JEDB was scheduled to meet with county commissioners on Wednesday, July 22, to address the matter, according to Executive Director of the JEDB Tish Oldham.
“We’re going to keep working to provide jobs and opportunities to the community,” Oldham said. “Along with different marketing adventures, the JEDB has been working with town officials in Erwin to look for suitors for the Morgan Insulation building and Dry Creek properties.”
It is all about a collaborative effort moving forward with each three governments. The JEDB is also working to be part of the Select Tennessee Property Evaluation Program offered by the state that would allow free consulting for any future places where a business may intend to set up shop locally.
“Only five cities are selected for the program,” Oldham said, “and we have to provide a letter stating how each three governments are working together to engage in future growth for the community.”
A proactive approach moving forward is what the area could see moving forward if the JEDB stays in effect, Oldham added.
“The state doesn’t have the funds to help every single city,” she said. “They are investing in the communities that have plans and are prepared for job growth and the energy being used to better the community.”
During a meeting of the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, July 20, Mayor Johnny Lynch, who serves on the JEDB, told his fellow board members the cut in funding by the county is a “serious situation.”
“I don’t see how you’re going to be able to support the Economic Development Board,” Lynch said. “You have to have revenue to be able to operate. I understand the (Commission’s) reason: to not impose a property tax increase.
“But, at the same time, it’s counterproductive to cut out your source of possible revenues; it’s kind of like you’re regressing when you do this. I, for one, am not very happy about that. We need to support this Economic Development Board. … I think they are making things happen now. If you don’t have someone out here trying to bring in business and industry, you’re not going to go anywhere.”
Vice-mayor Doug Hopson agreed.
“It’s going to hurt us all – Unicoi, Erwin and Unicoi County,” Hopson said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”