NETWORKS board approves $703,000 budget

Rick Wagner • Oct 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The $703,000 Sullivan County joint economic development marketing operations budget for 2009-10 includes $103,000 for the Regional Alliance for Economic Development for Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

However, NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership board Chairman Jeff Byrd said that would be the last payment in a five-year commitment to fund the alliance.

“Our commitment is out at the end of this fiscal year,” Byrd said before the NETWORKS board approved the 2009-10 budget, which runs July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010. It was delayed because of delays in approving the Sullivan County budget, and NETWORKS has been operating on a continuing budget resolution.

Byrd said Tom Ferguson, president of the alliance, will appear before the NETWORKS Executive Committee and likely the full board to discuss “reasons for us to continue that” funding for the alliance.

“That is not to say what the alliance is doing is not important,” Byrd said.

However, he said the mission of the alliance has changed over time from helping put Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on the map for economic development to economic development activities including showing prospective business and industry sites in the region, something that NETWORKS does.

Byrd said he simply wanted to let Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City officials know that NETWORKS was watching out for their interests and watching where the money goes in the $213,891 marketing and travel budget where the $103,000 for the alliance is.

The NETWORKS and alliance board share members, including Byrd, who according to the alliance Web site is president-elect of the alliance.

Ferguson took over as head of the alliance after the retirement of initial president Andy Burke.

NETWORKS CEO Richard Venable said the budget represents few changes from last year. The $703,000 spending plan compares to last year’s budget of $714,000. However, only $676,663 of that was spent, leaving $27,139 in net income.

The bulk of the revenues are $694,000 from the local governments: $353,940 from Sullivan, $215,140 from Kingsport, $117,980 from Bristol and $6,940 from Bluff City.

In addition, Venable said the governments in the spring will be asked for their share of a bond debt payment due then.

Normally those payments come from land sale proceeds from NETWORKS-owned property, but that hasn’t occurred this year except for an easement purchase.

Venable said the amount of the payments isn’t yet known because officials are trying to use $300,000 in leftover bond money from Partnership Park I in Bristol to help retire the bonds.

The rest of the income for the marketing operations budget is $9,000: $3,000 in interest and $6,000 in business contributions.

Expenses are $384,527 in salaries and benefits, down from last year because of an unfilled position not planned to be filled anytime soon; $25,700 for building expenses; $28,132 in office expenses; the $213,891 marketing and travel budget — which last year was budgeted at $192,152 but had actual expenses of $166,816; $45,000 for contracted services, down from $58,218 in actual expenses because The Corporate Image will be used on an as-needed basis instead of on retainer; and $5,700 for insurance and administration.

Venable said The Corporate Image has done a great job, but the reduction from $25,503 in actual expenditures to $10,000 reflects fiscal austerity.

Still, he said the public relations firm will launch a new Web site for NETWORKS soon.

Last year’s budget included a $9,000 capital allocation from reserves for Venable to travel to Germany with a Tennessee group to meet with Volkswagen officials, who are building a plant in Chattanooga, but no such allocation is planned this year.

The marketing operations budget does not include income and expenses from four rental houses NETWORKS owns at Partnership Park I.

The next NETWORKS meeting will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at Bristol Motor Speedway, to be followed by a 1:30 p.m. presentation by teams working on issues identified in the education and work force development summit NETWORKS sponsored earlier this year.

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