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County may cut tourism funds

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By Damon Lawrence

Funding for tourism was a topic during Tuesday’s public hearing and work session on the county budget.

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The majority of those who spoke during the hearing addressed issues with how much money the county is planning to allocate to tourism in the upcoming fiscal year.

“Your decision shapes the direction of Roane County by choosing whether to invest in growing the county through tourism like you have, or decreasing the amount you invest, which could have a negative impact on the businesses that depend on tourism,” Roane Alliance President/CEO Wade Creswell said.

The tourism allocation for the current fiscal year is $174,600. The budget committee is recommending $130,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. Roane County Executive Ron Woody said Creswell has a healthy fund balance that he can use to make up the difference.

“He’s got enough money that he could operate on this for four years if he had to,” Woody said. “He’s got some reserves. That’s what the reserves are for. They’re for these lean years.”

The county is planning to use around $670,000 of its reserve in the upcoming fiscal year.

Commissioner Randy Ellis bristled during the work session when Commission Chairman Ron Berry mentioned the costs of the 2 percent raise for county employees while speaking about the tourism allocation.

“What we’re doing is reoccurring expenses on raises,” Berry said.

Ellis asked Berry to clarify his statement, but he was cut off.

“What’s the comparison you’re drawing between the county employees?” Ellis said.

“Wait just a minute,” Berry responded. “I’ve got the floor right now.”

Berry came back to Ellis a few moments later.

“Any day of the week I’d rather give our hard working employees a raise than to spend more money in tourism because our county employees work hard,” Ellis said. “That shouldn’t even be brought up in the same sentence together.”

In all, the county is planning to give The Roane Alliance more than half a million dollars in the upcoming fiscal year.

The county also gave the Alliance more than half a million dollars in the current fiscal year.

Ellis said he believes the Commission does more than its fair share.

“This body in Roane County is the largest contributor to The Roane Alliance,” Ellis said.