published Monday, March 21st, 2011

Council asking some agencies to look for other revenue streams


by Cliff Hightower

WHAT’S NEXT

The Chattanooga City Council will hold a budget hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the City Council building on Lindsay Street. Nonprofit agencies, including Friends of Moccasin Bend, WTCI-TV, Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce and Chattanooga Furniture Bank, will make presentations to the council.

A question keeps popping up as Chattanooga City Council members talk with area nonprofit agencies: Do you provide services to other municipalities?

If the answer is yes, another question follows: Do they pay for any of this service?

“I think there are other municipalities who have interests in these agencies, but don’t contribute anything,” Councilman Jack Benson said last week.

For two weeks, council members have held budget hearings for a variety of nonprofit and quasi-governmental agencies. The work sessions will continue for the next three weeks as the council prepares for the 2011-12 fiscal year budget. The new year begins July 1.

The process started with $2.1 million more in budget requests than projected revenues will cover, although the city could gain $10.5 million in extra sales tax money if a 45-year-old sales tax agreement with Hamilton County expires.

But council members want to know if the nonprofit social service and civic agencies can get by without the money they are requesting from city government.

Council Chairman Manny Rico said he’s just not sure the city should be funding some of the agencies.

“If we have the money, we might give it to you,” he said. “But if we don’t have the money, what are you going to do?”

Dan Bowers, president of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, said his organization has taken the hint and has approached Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Soddy-Daisy and East Ridge.

He said Allied Arts plans to go to all 10 municipalities to ask for funding, and he thinks at least some of them will come through.

“We don’t have any commitments yet,” he said. “The request has been just to perhaps include us in their budget next year.”

But some town and city leaders outside Chattanooga say they aren’t sure they will be able to support Allied Arts or any other agency.

“We don’t have them in our budget, and we don’t have a surplus,” Lookout Mountain Mayor Greg Brown said.

Honna Rogers, Signal Mountain town manager, said city residents also pay county taxes, and she sees that as part of the county’s budget — to help pay for those services. She said the town’s budget won’t stretch to include donations for agencies.

“You would have to show our community uses your services,” she said.

Ted Rogers, Collegedale city manager, said no agencies have approached his city yet.

He said helping the agencies would mean taking money from elsewhere in the city budget. The City Commission would be the body to authorize that, he said.

“I don’t foresee them doing that,” he said. “Times are pretty lean.”

Benson said other nonprofits such as the Speech and Hearing Center and Fortwood Center also could look for outside funding. Fortwood Center officials could not be reached last week.

Howell Hathorne, president and CEO of the Speech and Hearing Center, said his organization usually gets $150,000 from the city-county sales-tax agreement. He said the agency already has gone to outside funding sources.

“We get money from Marion County,” he said.

That accounts for $10,400 each year, he said.

The Speech and Hearing Center also receives money from civic clubs throughout Hamilton County, he said, and hopes to forge a link with United Way of Bradley County.

But he said it’s hard to ask other municipalities for funding because the people using the service — city or county — also are putting in money in the form of taxes.

“It doesn’t matter where they are from,” Hathorne said. “They pay.”

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