Industrial board wins tug-of-war; county reverses mayor veto

Published 8:28 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Claiborne Commission overrode during its October meeting a veto of a resolution that had been adopted just the month before. The reversal hands back the financial reins to the Claiborne Industrial Development Board (IDB) of its earmarked funds which include its portion of the annual county property taxes.

County Mayor Joe Brooks used his power of veto shortly after the September meeting to halt the transfer of IDB funds into an account that would stand totally separate from the county coffers.

Brooks explained his reason for the veto in a letter to the commissioners, dated Sept. 29.

Email newsletter signup

“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, in part.

Brooks questioned the commissioners’ judgment in handing over property tax dollars on an annual basis without being able to approve just how the funds are spent. He said in the letter he was particularly uneasy with one part of the resolution allowing transfer of all future funds earmarked for the IDB “for its use.” Brooks urged the commission to remove the language and simply allow the Industrial Development Board to operate on its own merit without the use of taxpayer funding.

Tennessee Codes Annotated allows Industrial Development Boards to have their own separate bank accounts to use in administering their own projects.

Rob Barger, chairman of the Claiborne County Economic & Community Board, addressed the issue.

According to Barger, the funds will continue to be managed under dual control and independently audited each year by a CPA firm.

“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 by the county finance office of IDB bills.

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

This issue was addressed during the October meeting.

One bill, in particular, was not paid because it exceeded the $10,000 maximum allowed without bidding out the project, according to Claiborne Finance Director Sue Tuttle.

“It was the end of the fiscal year. We approved it (payment of the bill) in July, but we hadn’t had the budget approved by the state. If the budget hadn’t been approved, we would have had a problem,” said Tuttle, adding that she had followed the recommendation of the auditor to wait and see just how the commission responded to the vetoed resolution.

She said that, with the reversal, she will make a check payable to the Industrial Development Board and the IDB will be in charge of paying the company what it is owed.

The veto was overridden with a vote of 18 in favor and two commissioners, Whitt Shuford and Charlton Vass, passing their votes. Commissioner Anthony Rowe was absent from the meeting.

The resolution was initially adopted in September with a vote of 20 to one.