July 22, 2014 - 23:02
Commissioners try to pull chamber funding
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By a vote of 6-3, the board passed a resolution to amend the private act that distributed the county’s lodging tax.

Polk County Commissioners may have pulled funding from the Polk County Chamber of Commerce during their regular monthly meeting last Thursday night. By a vote of 6-3, the board passed a resolution to amend the private act that distributed the county’s lodging tax. The resolution will have to be approved by Nashville legislators before being enacted. The amount of the tax will remain the same.

The resolution calls for a change in the 3% lodging tax by using 1% to create, maintain, and fund a promotion coordinator system “for the purposes of promoting tourism, furthering economic development.” 1/2% of the lodging tax would go to county parks and recreation and1/2% to the county libraries. 1% of the lodging tax will continue to go toward the debt service fund.

The resolution was presented by Commissioner Greg Brooks, who asked Chairman Isaac Bramblett to appoint a committee to address the issue of the promotion coordinator if the bill is passed. The original act for the lodging tax called for 2/3 of the money collected to go to the chamber.

Commissioner Sheena Gaddis asked where the coordinator would be housed. Brooks said it would be up to the committee. She asked if the money going toward the parks and recreation would be split evenly between the east and west sides of the county. Brooks said it would.

“This cuts to chamber out entirely?” asked Commissioner Randy Collins. Brooks replied Tom Tohill had said they could make it without it. Collins asked about a veteran’s program that went though the chamber; Brooks said vet assistance could come from the Veteran’s Office.

Laura Rivers said membership fees and the lodging tax were the only money the chamber received. She said it would be cutting the chamber’s throat if they were cut out. She said the chamber promoted economic development and took care of the 3-Star program, which gave the county cheaper loans, Rivers said she did the books for the chamber and didn’t think they could make it.

Brooks said outfitters had told him the chamber was ineffective. Rivers said there was other tourism besides rafting – shopping, the train, stargazing and fishing. She said the chamber did a good job whether he believed it or not.

“Come to a meeting if you want to find out what they’re doing,” Rivers said, adding one thing upcoming was an anti-bullying program. Commissioner Daren Waters said a man came to Copper Basin to do anti-bullying and worked with the Sheriff’s Department and Judge.

Commissioner James Woody said he was curious to know why appropriations for the chamber were chosen. He said it there were other ways to find money, like overtime pay for the Sheriff’s Department. He said there was money out there without picking on the chamber. Woody reminded the board the resolution would have to be approved by the general assembly.

Rivers said other counties gave their chamber the entire lodging tax. Brooks said Bradley business owners would give a different response if asked how they felt about their chamber. Rivers said they did what they could with the money they were given, adding they only had three part-time employees.

Commissioner John Pippenger said there was more money in bigger counties because they had more people, adding other counties had a 5% lodging tax and Polk was the only one with 3%. Waters said a lot of the money made in other counties was because of our tourism.

Pippenger seconded Brooks’ motion to pass the resolution. Waters voted yes. Collins and Woody voted against the resolution. Mike Curbow, Gaddis, Bramblett and Wendell Lewis all initially passed on the vote, but Curbow, Bramblett and Lewis changed their votes to yes; Gaddis changed hers to no.

Pippenger told the board he had done some research and made some calls and believed the representatives and senators required a ¾ majority on a vote before they would amend a private act. Because only 2/3 of the board voted for the resolution, it may or may not be introduced in Nashville.  Brooks said they used to do it with 2/3. Bramblett appointed Pippenger, Brooks and Waters to the committee to handle the promotion coordinator if the private act goes into law.

“We’ll send it and see,” Pippenger said.

Commissioners also voted on a sales tax resolution, which is already on the November ballot. The vote was does to clarify the wording of the resolution to indicate the additional money it brings in, if passed, will go directly toward the school system.

Pippenger said he had done some research and discovered “a couple things I didn’t know at the time.” He said if the sales tax referendum passes, it would affect the city of Benton, which passed a sales tax increase several years ago.

Bramblett asked if the money was to go toward help with the purchase of future busses for the school system. He said when it was initially discussed, that was the impression he got and asked if Director James Jones said he would use it for busses. Pippenger said Jones did not absolutely designate it was for busses and that the commission could not designate it to be used for busses, but could recommend it be used for them.

At the end of the meeting, Brooks took the opportunity to address Rivers and respond to a recent letter to the editor in the Polk County News. He said he ran a busy business and worked 70 hours a week and was also dealing with taking his daughter to chemo once a week, “so if the way I dress offends you, you are welcome to go back where you came from,” Brooks said.

Brooks said Rivers was the last one who should be giving him fashion advice, as she looked like a firecracker had gone off in her hair. He said he saw her at Lowe’s once in what appeared to be pajamas. Rivers said she never went out in PJs and suggested he not have his wife call her to apologize about not having done laundry. Brooks said he told her not to call and suggested if Rivers took up his work ethic, she might not have lost her property. Rivers said her bank had forged documents and she was in court over her property.

Brooks said everyone at the meeting wore their work clothes. Rivers said Lewis was wearing work clothes but was not filthy.

A vote on a budget amendment to pay for legal advertising for the Election office was tabled. Pippenger explained Nashville had to approve their budget before they could pass any amendments to it. Gaddis asked when the state would be done with the budget. Pippenger said it would be November.

Woody asked the board if they needed to be appointing a county attorney. He said it had been overlooked the last two years and should have been done in October. County Executive Hoyt Firestone said if there was no official council he would appoint someone. The issue was put on the November agenda.




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