County cuts funds to several agencies

County cuts funds to several agencies

June 17th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News


Chattanooga Organized for Action is sponsoring an educational forum at 6 p.m. Barry Rose 6/16/11 Monday, June 27 to focus on proposed defunding of several mental health agencies. Organizer Chris Brooks said the County Commission and City Council have been invited to attend. The forum will be at the CAMPhouse, 1427 Williams St.


Agencies whose funding is deleted from the 2012 Hamilton County budget and their county appropriation for the current fiscal year:

• Bethlehem Community Center ($15,000)

• Scenic Cities Beautiful Commission ($22,888)

• Allied Arts ($150,000)

• Friends of Moccasin Bend (no 2011 funding)

• WTCI-TV Channel 45 ($30,000)

• Regional History Museum ($28,000)

• Choose Chattanooga ($30,000)

• African American Museum/Bessie Smith Hall ($64,000)

Source: Hamilton County

Budget cuts by Hamilton County to social service and arts agencies could mean they will have to lay off workers in the coming fiscal year.

Dan Bowers, president and CEO of Allied Arts, said Wednesday he "didn't think there was any question" agencies his organization helps fund would have to cut people and programs unless Chattanooga makes up the difference.

"It is going to cripple our arts education program," he said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger has said for months the county would not be able to fund several agencies once covered by the 45-year-old sales tax agreement. The agreement expired last month and shifted $10.5 million in sales tax money from county to city coffers.

Coppinger said Wednesday the money just wasn't there to fund those agencies even though he knows they provide essential services.

"We've thought about that all along," Coppinger said. "But it comes down to a funding issue."

Eight agencies listed in the proposed budget received no funding. They include Allied Arts, the Regional History Museum and Friends of Moccasin Bend.

Another group of agencies that provide mental health services - such as the Children's Home/Chambliss Shelter, Fortwood Center and Joe Johnson Mental Health Center - didn't apply this year to the county.

Coppinger said the county is aware of potential ramifications from cutting funding for mental health services.

Supporters of funding mental health services say lack of money could lead to more people in jails and costly visits to hospital emergency rooms.

The proposed budget still includes county funding for some agencies and programs including forest fire prevention, the Humane Educational Society, the Urban League and the Chattanooga and Multicultural chambers of commerce.

The County Commission is expected to vote on the budget on June 30.

Chris Brooks with Chattanooga Organized for Action said his group plans to hold a forum between the county and the city in a week and a half. He hopes particularly to find funding for mental health services, he said.

"We're hoping for an open, honest discussion on how these agencies were funded in the first place," Brooks said.

He said there are questions about whether past county support came from the general fund rather than the sales tax agreement.

Chattanooga officials also are holding discussions about once jointly funded agencies and hope to boost money for mental health services.

But in the meantime, other agencies such as Allied Arts could see more cuts.

Bowers said his organization's appropriation has shrunk from $450,000 a year to $160,000 over the last three years. The council talked last week about trimming that to around $100,000.

He said his agency survived over the last three years from general campaign donations and dipping into reserves.

But he said Allied Arts could not dip into reserves again. There is not enough money in that pot.

"We can't do that," he said. "We can't do that again."