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Jonesborough ‘courthouse bill’ killed in budget talks

Jonesborough’s courthouse square revitalization bill made it through the first round of state budget cuts, but was killed Thursday night by state lawmakers as they looked for more ways to balance the books.
“We’re a victim of two things,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe of the bill’s death. “It’s an election year, and it’s an extremely tough budget.”
The bill would have allowed Jonesborough officials to designate a “courthouse square revitalization and tourism development zone” in downtown, about a 700-foot boundary in which businesses or a public arts facility would be located.
Under the bill, sales and use tax revenue earned inside the zone would have been redistributed back to Jonesborough.
The bill would have required the money to be used for “maintaining and improving the viability of the courthouse square and tourism development zone area through any means deemed appropriate by the governing body of Jonesborough,” according to a state description of the bill.
Those uses could include “making loans or grants to any public or private person, entity or association for the use of infrastructure, marketing, economic development and other purposes related to revitalization and tourism development,” according to the bill’s requirements.
According to Jonesborough officials, the bill would have diverted around $475,000 annually from state coffers back to the town.
Wolfe said he understands the reason the bill was cut, and credits local representatives to helping the bill get as far as it did.
“The effort by Sen. [Rusty] Crowe, and Representatives [Dale] Ford and [Matthew] Hill couldn’t have been better,” he said. “They did an outstanding job promoting the legislation and tryng to get it passed for us.”
Their efforts may be required again next year, as Wolfe confirmed he was positive the bill would be submitted again next year under hopefully improving economic circumstances.
“The good news is, this month will represent the second month state revenues are exceeding budget expectations,” he said. “Hopefully that will continue to improve.”
Despite the Town’s campaigning for the bill, and thousands of dollars in expenses preparing an economic feasibility study, Wolfe said he understands the predicament state lawmakers face at budget time in Nashville.
“When you’ve got people out of work, and you’re having to debate whether or not to fund essential programs and children’s servies, it’s kind of hard to argue with the priorities they’re setting,” he said. “We don’t want to be unreasonable about this. A lot of other meat and bones programs are being cut out.”