Would you turn down essentially free money?
The Wilson County Agricultural Management Committee voted down a motion to accept a whopping $118,000 in Exposition Center items and improvements from Wilson County Promotions (WCP) on Monday night.
It came down to a tense 4-3 vote, with Committee Chairman Jeff Joines, Kenny Reich, Terry Scruggs and Jason Haley voting no.
Those in favor of accepting the funds for the Expo Center's needs - Rick Bell, Sue Vanatta and Terry McPeak - were left wondering, at times out loud: Why not?
Wilson County Fair Board Vice President Jimmy Comer led the presentation on behalf of Wilson County Promotions.
He started by saying that they added a dollar to ticket prices during the 2016 Wilson County Fair and wanted to use those extra funds to support the Wilson County Expo Center. Going forward, in 2017, they are under contract to add a dollar surcharge to tickets to benefit the center.
Comer said that they had $118,000 in their reserve and were ready to start spending it "tomorrow" if the committee agreed to accept it.
The $118,000 would be used for items that would benefit both the Wilson County Fair during the month of August, and the Wilson County Expo Center throughout the year - and in years to come. The list of needs, crafted by Expo Center staff with WCP, included ticket booths with lockable cash drawers ($3,600); two display cases ($13,000); a Genie Lift with two sections of industrial shelving for Expo Storage ($6,000); portable stage system and storage trailer ($30,000); Expo office items, including display of local public art ($5,000); exterior signage package ($10,000); and additional furnishings like 10 upholstered benches, indoor/outdoor seating and tables ($50,000).
Comer said the list was determined by Expo Center staff and he hand delivered it to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto in January.
"We think it is a win-win deal that we could invest directly into the need," Comer said. "We have this money in an account earmarked for improvements. We will start buying stuff for your center tomorrow. We are here to be a team player and help."
Joines said the hurdle to "get on-board" was that he felt they had a much different agreement.
"When we started to put the Expo Center together several years ago we came to Wilson County Promotions and asked to go ahead and donate a surcharge. My question is, how did we go from 'Yes, we would' to no?" Joines asked. "I agree that there is a lot of stuff that we need, but it is my understanding now that we aren't going to get this money. There is going to be stuff bought."
Comer asked Joines to "please understand our spirit of what we are trying to accomplish." For instance, the $30,000 stage would be used during fair pageants, but could also be rented out by the Expo Center during other events to garner funds for them.
"We did not tell anybody we were doing a surcharge," Comer added, including they were not under contract last year. "We have options - we can honor this in the spirit it was intended and start buying tomorrow - or this money can end up sitting in our account and not be dispersed. We really don't want to do that."
Rick Bell asked Joines what his concern was. "What's the problem? What does it matter who spends the money as long as it gets spent on the Expo Center?" Bell questioned.
"We had an agreement about the surcharge, that's what we live and die on," Joines said. "If this money comes with strings attached, from my - Jeff Joines' point of view - I don't want anything to do with it."
Vanatta took the opportunity to share some community feedback. She said that she often gets calls with the same questions: Is the Expo Center making money? Was the Expo Center a good thing to build?
Vanatta, District 23 County Commissioner, assures constituents of all the exciting, upcoming events and potentials for the Expo Center, but when it comes down to hard numbers - she said it's hard to get a hand on those. She pointed out that in commission packets there are expo expenses listed without line items and no income line items.
County Finance Director Aaron Maynard explained they didn't want to attract more criticism from naysayers of the Expo Center. He also said that while WCP was under no obligation, they had counted on the $118,000 to break even.
Vanatta made a motion to clarify those line items in the future. The committee voted and this unanimously passed.
Still, folks walked away from the meeting with no money from Wilson County Promotions being spent on the Expo Center.
"The money will stay in our account," Comer said.
Unanimous vote to honor Hale Moss
One item the committee could agree on was to honor Hale Moss.
At Joines' suggestion, the committee unanimously voted to name one of the livestock barns located on the Ag Center grounds in Moss' honor.
"He's always supported the Ag Center and he's a big deal to me," Joines said.
Moss was in attendance at the meeting.
Most recently, Moss was inducted into the 2017 Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame. In his lifetime, the businessman behind Moss' Florist and Garden Center, has served as Beef Cattle Superintendent of the Tennessee State Fair Advisory Board (1997-2005) and as President of the Wilson County Promotions Executive Committee.
He's also served on the Agricultural Committee of the Association of International Fair and Expositions representing Zone 6.