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County ups funding for new senior center

Washington County commissioners passed an amended resolution during their April 23 meeting that changed the structure of their allocation to the Animal Control Board and boosted the amount they will give to the Jonesborough Senior Center by $150,000.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson presented the amended resolution, which was seconded by Commissioner Gerald Sparks and passed on a unanimous vote.
Commissioner David Shanks made a motion to separate the two issues, which was seconded by Commissioner Joe Corso.
The resolution proposes giving $250,000 for the construction or acquisition of a new facility for the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Center that will be held in escrow for up to 24 months.
The county mayor is authorized to release $100,000 now, and an additional $150,000 when the Animal Control Center raises $1 million in private funds for the construction of the new center. If the funds are not drawn within 24 months after the resolution takes effect, the appropriation reserves expire and funds will be returned to the county’s general fund. Up to $100,000 in asphalt and paving services will be provided when the Animal Control Board executes a construction contract for the new facility.
The amended allocation for a new animal control center passed with Commissioners Richard Matherly and David Shanks opposed. Commissioner Pete Speropulos abstained due to possible conflict of interest.
Before voting on the increased amount to the Jonesborough Senior Center, Mayor Dan Eldridge urged commissioners to think long and hard about the current status of the general fund as the county heads into the budget process for 2013. Including the needs of the county, its school system and the required amount for the city schools, Eldridge said the deficit is already more than $10 million.
Speropulos noted Johnson City residents also provide dollars for the general fund. “As long as we’re in the giving spirit, I think it’s only fair to consider giving Johnson City $500,000 for their senior center,” he said, later withdrawing the motion.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe criticized Eldridge’s use of the word “gift” when describing the allocation to the senior center, which was made in reference to the distinction between the animal control program being mandated through a private act and support of the senior center as voluntary.
“To classify as a gift flies in the face of the relationship Jonesborough and Washington County have built,” he said.
Wolfe said the town provides fire department services to county residents, sewer system service to the industrial park, and assistance during disasters such as last year’s tornadoes.
“We’re not statutorily obligated to do those things either, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Ferguson said he was saddened by the language used in reference to the senior center project during the last Budget Committee meeting. “We have a moral obligation,” he said, turning to Wolfe and asking him what name will be posted on the building.
“The Jonesborough Washington County Senior Center,” Wolfe answered.
Eldridge said the term moral obligation was also brought up to him by a citizen. “I hope we understand the higher obligation is to the taxpayers of Washington County,” he said.
Both Ferguson’s and Eldridge’s comments were met with applause from people seated in the audience.
The amended resolution proposes $400,000 toward construction costs of the new senior center, which will be held in escrow for up to 36 months. The county mayor can release these funds when the town, its contractor and architect certify the main floor of the new center is completed. The appropriation is restricted toward completing the the bottom floor of the new center or buying furnishings. If the funds are not drawn within 36 months after the date the resolution takes effect, the funds will be returned to the general fund.
According to the resolution, the county will commit up to $100,000 in asphalt and paving services when the Town of Jonesborough executes a construction contract for the new facility.
The increased allocation to the senior center project passed with Commissioners Mitch Meredith, David Tomita, Ken Lyon and Joe Grandy opposed.
Eldridge said he had not seen the amended resolution prior to its presentation during the commission meeting.
“I feel we had proposed a very generous contribution, and given the $10.4 million deficit we face, I would have like to see the commissioners acknowledge the generous amount for what it is.”