County mayor, industrial board plays tug-of-war with finances

Published 12:05 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

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Claiborne County Mayor Joe Brooks has vetoed a resolution that, if left alone, would have allowed the Claiborne Industrial Development Board (IDB) to stand as an island unto itself. Brooks says he is concerned that the IDB would be using its share of the county property tax dollars without any say or approval from the county’s governing body.

Brooks explained his worries in a letter to the Claiborne County Commission.

“While I understand a great many Industrial Development Boards across the state operate a separate checking account outside of the county’s purview, there are almost no counties that fund their IDB’s through fund 119 additionally. For those counties that do, there are stipulations put on taxpayer funding, which overwhelmingly includes County Commission approval prior to the expenditure of those funds, which are only used for specific and justifiable reason,” reads the veto letter, dated Sept. 29.

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Brooks says in the letter that he is greatly concerned that the commissioners would want to hand over property tax dollars on an annual basis without the ability to approve just how the funds are spent.

Pointing to state statute, Brooks says in his letter that he could concede allowing the Industrial Development Board to operate off PILOT funds (Payments in Lieu of Taxes).

He says he is particularly uneasy with one sentence in Resolution 2021-089 which allows the transfer of all future funds earmarked for the Claiborne Industrial Development Board “for its use.”

“In conclusion, through this veto, I am urging you to remove the language and simply allow the IDB to operate on its own merit without receiving any additional taxpayer funding,” reads the letter.

The resolution, sponsored by commissioner David Mundy, points to the IDB’s ability through state statute to create its own bank account and to administer its own funding. The document calls for the Claiborne Finance director to transfer all funds administered or held on behalf of the Industrial Development Board to the IDB upon creation of its own bank account.

The Claiborne County Industrial Development Board was established in 1955 as an independent corporation. The funds have grown over time. Lease income and the sale of real estate owned by the IDB have amassed a good deal of monies. Added to the current funds are donations and the annual $50,000 county-supplemented money.

These funds would have continued to be managed under dual control and independently audited each year by a CPA firm, according to IDB spokesperson Rob Barger.

“A portion of these funds have been used recently to purchase industrial development property, to improve this property and to promote this property. A small portion of these funds will be used to support the Boys/Girls Club and to improve the Graham/Kivett Home – both, projects the board sees as enhancing the county, thus making Claiborne County more attractive to new development,” said Barger.

He says the Industrial Board’s move to take over management of the checking account is due to nonpayment of IDB bills by the county finance office.

“(This) has started to negatively affect the board’s credibility,” said Barger.

Transferring the management and oversight of the checking account to the Claiborne Economic Partnership (of which the IDB is under) would have allowed use of the funds as the Industrial Development Board sees fit “which is the purpose of the board,” said Barger.

The financial tug-of-war is expected to be addressed during the next regular monthly meeting of the Claiborne County Commission, scheduled for Oct. 18. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne County Courthouse.