Commission requests report

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   The Carter County Commission is in search of answers concerning the economic outlook of the community. Commissioners formally requested an update from the Economic Development Commission (EDC) during their meeting Monday morning.
   Commissioner Al Meehan made the motion asking the EDC to provide an updated status report. The motion calls for the EDC to compile documentation that outlines its financial transactions for the past two years, highlights local trends in industry, and details economic projections for the future.
   Meehan met with Economic Development Director, Haynes Elliott, last week and appreciated the opportunity to speak with him privately but said the entire commission needs to be privy to information on what is being done to bring industries into Carter County. The county commission is responsible for passing annual budgets and making financial decisions that are effected by the status of the local economy.
   "He has the responsibility to keep the commission abreast of what is being done," Meehan said. "The EDC is a non-profit, public corporation and there is some concern that the public is not being adequately informed.
   Meehan, who is the chairman of the Rules and By-Laws Committee, said Tennessee Code establishes the EDC as a public entity and that its actions are subject to disclosure. He added that its audits, which are located at the director's office, must be made available to the public.
   Many commissioners voiced concern that they have not had an update from the EDC and expressed their desire for more information on the county's economic standing. They noted their responsibility to provide the public with answers on the status of industrial development, and they feel they are unable to do their jobs properly without information from the EDC.
   "We just want to know that we do have somebody out there working," Commissioner, Chuck Culler, said. "We want to see a warm body every now and then."
   County Executive Dale Fair told commissioners that it is difficult for the EDC to speak publicly about the specific industries it is working to draw up contracts with, but he understands the full commission's need to be informed of the actions of the EDC.
   Fair said his office has some of the documentation requested by the commissioners and that he will make it available to them as soon as possible. However, commissioners maintained their request for a report from the EDC and asked to be given some information on the local economy at the next full commission meeting in February.
   The EDC has scheduled a workshop for March 17, 2003.
   In other business, Financial Director, Jason Cody, presented the commission with a mid-year assessment. He outlined where the county stands as far as its budgeted revenues, expenditures, and its outstanding debt schedule.
   Cody walked the commission through the amount of revenues collected six months in the fiscal year. He said he has no reason to expect revenue shortfalls from property taxes or sales taxes.
   County Trustee, Randall Lewis, stated that he has already collected approximately 41 percent of property tax revenue. The office expects to have collected 95 percent by the end of February, and the last five percent should roll in after deadline.
   The county has collected $302,000 of the $670,000 it budgeted in sales tax revenue. The figure does not include seasonal retail sales from the month of December.
   "We are tracking very well with our past history in both property tax and sales tax revenue, so we have no concerns there," Cody said. "We are on a very good pace, and I don't anticipate any shortfalls at this point."
   Cody told commissioners they should expect to see about 50 percent of budget expenditures left at this point during the year. He said that most of the areas where higher percentages were used reflect seasonal expenditures, and he expects them to correct themselves throughout the rest of the fiscal year.
   The financial director said he would like to look at areas where the county can refinance some of its loans in order to save money in the long run. He also said he would like to look at building up the general fund, so money would not have to be borrowed from debt services and paid back after property tax revenue comes in each year.
   Carter County currently is $20 million in debt. Cody believes that figure is very conservative when compared to other local governments and counties of similar size. "We do not have a lot of outstanding debt," Cody said.
   Cody will give similar financial updates to the county commission on a quarterly basis.