Hamilton County nonprofit oversight rules spark response from Dallas Bay Fire Department

The Dallas Bay Volunteer Fire Department just wants to clear the air about Hamilton County's new financial oversight rules for certain nonprofits.

Those new rules, passed by the Hamilton County Commission in a 6-3 vote last month, call for nonprofits receiving county dollars surpassing 25 percent of their operating budgets to adopt county purchasing and travel expense policies. The oversight measure also calls for those organizations to give a sear on their governing boards to a county commissioner and provide all financial documents to the county.

The Dallas Bay Fire Department received $67,877 from the county in the fiscal 2018 budget, matching what it received the year before. It is one out of about two dozen civic and charitable organizations who receives contributions from the county, a number that includes about a dozen other volunteer fire departments.

Mitch McClure, a former county commissioner who serves as the fire departments board chairman, discussed the issue with the Hamilton County Commission this morning.

"In the last few weeks there have been discussions in the media, social media and several places about accountability and stewardship, and the resolution that you all passed," McClure said. "I agree that there must be stewardship of every taxpayer dollar that is spent."

However, there needs to be some clarity on reporting, he said. In short, the department already provides numerous reports, financial and otherwise, the county, the state and other federal agencies.

The department is subject to its one nine-member governing board, as well as its in-house guidelines and those of the Hamilton County Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is we are transparent," McClure said, distributing a report to the commissioners and adding the Dallas Bay Fire Department falls below the 25 percent threshold of the recent financial oversight measure.

"I want to provide this to you because we partner with you,"he said. "When 911 gets a call, we go."

The Dallas Bay Fire Department is the third organization which has responded to the new nonprofit oversight rules, following the Human Educational Society and the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Attorney Jerrold Farinash, who serves as vice president of the Humane Education Society board of directors, recently sent a letter to county leaders disputing the organization simply received funding "to assist them in the performance of their established purposes," but instead served as a vendor for animal welfare services.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor disagreed.

The humane society, which receives county money amount to 33 percent of its operating budget, is subject to the new rules, he said.

CVB President Bob Doak has not formally responded to the financial oversight measures, but he has voiced opposition.

The tourism agency received $7.8 million in lodging tax revenues from the county in fiscal 2017 and is projected to receive $8.2 million in fiscal 2018. County dollars exceed 80 percent of the CVB operating budget.

Commissioner Tim Boyd, who sponsored the nonprofit financial oversight measure, has scrutinized CVB spending for months.

Mayor Jim Coppinger repeatedly cautioned commissioners over "unforeseen consequences" of the the new rules.