How Knox County commissioners spend discretionary funds
"When you've got a limited amount and you represent over 50,000 people, that's what each district is, you try to do that where you get the biggest bang for your buck for your constituents," Commissioner R. Larry Smith said.
"I feel if we want to give to a charity or a cause in our community, we should do it out of our own pocket, not from the taxpayers," Commissioner Jeff Ownby said.
"Do I think it needs to be eliminated? Sure I do, but the reality is Commission is going to put it back in," Mayor Tim Burchett said.
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The use of discretionary funds for Knox County commissioners has been debated back and forth by elected leaders on both sides of the issue. 6 News looked into how the money was spent during the last full fiscal year.
Knox County commissioners are allowed to use up to $55,000 per year on non-profits of their choice.
"It's a great way for us just to give a little bit," Knox County Vice Chair R. Larry Smith said.
For the fiscal year 2012-2013, commissioners gave more than $15,000 to different schools and school programs. More than $2,700 was spent on community centers for children and seniors and around $1,400 was spent on libraries.
In total, commissioners spent just more than $35,000 of the $55,000 available in discretionary funds for the year.
"When you've got a limited amount and you represent over 50,000 people, that's what each district is, you try to do that where you get the biggest bang for your buck for your constituents," Smith said.
Commissioners Smith, Sam McKenzie, Mike Brown and Dave Wright used the full $5,000 available.
Commissioners Brad Anders, Richard Briggs and Ed Shouse used more than half of the available discretionary funds.
Amy Broyles, Mike Hammond and Tony Norman used less than half of the available funds.
Jeff Ownby did not use any of the discretionary funds.
"I feel if we want to give to a charity or a cause in our community, we should do it out of our own pocket, not from the taxpayers," Ownby said.
The largest sum of money was given to the East Tennessee Historical Society. Briggs gave $3,500 to the organization.
"It was going to be Armed Forces Weekend, and we had an opportunity to post a three-time Pulitzer prize winning author," Director of the East Tennessee Historical Society Cherel Henderson said.
The organization hosted the lecture and book signing with Rick Atkinson, a World War II historian.
Roughly 600 people attended the event.
"We wouldn't have been able to open it to the public free of charge and to have as many people attend without the money," Henderson said.
Opposition from the Mayor
"I'd eliminate it just like that if I could," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said.
Burchett did eliminate discretionary funds from the budget once before, but county commissioners voted to put it back in.
"I don't think it's the proper way to do money," Burchett said. "I think if you've got that money, it means you've taken too much from the taxpayers."
Burchett said he believes it's a losing battle.
"Do I think it needs to be eliminated? Sure I do, but the reality is Commission is going to put it back in," Burchett said.