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By CINDY SIMPSON
Roane State Community College officials are going to make tough decisions in the coming weeks — including one that might do away with a major county economic driver.
Roane State’s Henry/Stafford East Tennessee Agricultural Exposition Center, the site of many events from horse shows to rodeos, may be shut down as a result of cuts in state spending.
“We’re examining right now what we can do to be efficient costwise with the intent of keeping it open,” Roane State President Gary Goff said.
Goff said officials are looking at the college budget after learning they will be facing a $1.33 million cut from the state.
“We spent all day today in budget meetings looking at how to cut 9 percent of the budget,” Goff said Monday.
Cuts will have to be made, but what will go is still undecided, he said.
Other options include closing campuses to outsourcing more employment.
Goff has notified Roane County Executive Mike Farmer and Commission Chair Troy Beets that the Exposition Center is at risk.
The busy Expo Center attracts $6 million in direct revenue for the county each year, he said, with visitors using area hotels and restaurants.
Roane Alliance President Leslie Henderson said if the Expo Center was closed, it would be a traumatic impact on the county’s business.
“The Expo Center is a huge economic driver, especially for tourism,” Henderson said. “It is the biggest of its kind in the state. They have an event every week.
“Businesses like Cracker Barrel, they live and die by events at the Expo,” Henderson said. “It would be a huge loss to our business community if we didn’t have that draw.”
Horse people, she added, typically have more disposable income. People come from as far as California to visit the Expo Center.
Henderson said Chamber of Commerce officials have talked to officials at the Expo Center before about ways to close the funding gap so it would not have to be subsidized by the college.
In the fiscal budget that is drawing near to a close, the school already had a 21 percent cut in budget.
In the past year the college eliminated 45 positions largely by voluntary buyout and outsourcing.
Students shouldn’t be surprised to feel a sting this year as well.
“I would anticipate there will probably be an increase in student tuition,” Goff said.