BRISTOL, Va. — A divided City Council narrowly approved giving the Birthplace of Country Music $100,000 Tuesday, fulfilling an agreement originally made in 2011.
The payment was the last installment of a $500,000, five-year pledge made by a previous council that began in fiscal 2011-12. Bristol Tennessee made a similar commitment at that time and previously paid all of its $500,000.
In 2017 another iteration of the City Council removed the $100,000 balance from its budget then – saying the financially-challenged city needed that money for other things. It was never reinstated.
Some of those same arguments arose Tuesday during a council discussion preceding a 3-2 vote that was enough to approve the payment. Since it was unbudgeted, the money will come from the city’s unassigned fund balance, a city reserve fund.
In voting for the payment, Councilman Bill Hartley said the money would be used to leverage other funds to assist the local music promotion organization.
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“When we got to that last year, council decided to not honor the last year’s commitment even though, at the time, the budget was balanced. They kept cutting and cutting and I said it was wrong then; that we should do this to honor the commitment that we made,” Hartley said.
“The BCM has weathered a great storm over the last few years, having to cancel the Rhythm & Roots festival one year, they were shut down due to COVID restrictions but yet they’re still going,” he said. “Clearly there is need. You have a building next door that is blighted.”
The council already approved an application to the Department of Housing and Community Development for more than $1 million, on behalf of BCM, for the museum annex, a building located between the current museum and The Bristol Hotel, Hartley said.
“It will help a good community use, help increase tourism in our community, generate revenue and, most importantly I think, we do what we said we would do years ago,” Hartley said.
Former Mayor Ed Harlow, who authored the original 2011 agreement, spoke to the council, encouraging them to take action and make that final payment.
Hartley, Vice Mayor Neal Osborne and Council member Becky Nave voted for the measure while Mayor Anthony Farnum and Kevin Wingard voted against the funding. The mayor said he appreciated the museum and all it brings to the city but noted other priorities.
“We’ve spent $5 million to $6 million not in the original budget for the landfill and those numbers could be $20 million or $30 million,” Farnum said. “I don’t know what the budget will look like for the CVB and others we fund every year. I don’t know what our tax rate will be or our trash rate. There are a lot of unknowns right now.
“The police chief caught me in the hallway and said we need $750,000 for new police cars. Every year the firefighters say they’re short staffed pulling fire fighters off the engines to work the ambulance, so we need more firefighters,” Farnum said. “This has really torn me. Obviously I love the museum, but I also know we have a lot of other needs in the city as well.”
In other matters, the council unanimously agreed to release a restriction on the former Bristol Brewery property at 41 Piedmont Ave., so that property could be sold to accommodate a new business.
The city’s Industrial Development Authority also approved the change at its midday Tuesday meeting.
In other matters, City Manager/City Attorney Randy Eads informed the council that its 3-2 vote on Nov. 15 would be sufficient to sell a 10-acre tract near the intersection of Bonham Road and Old Airport Road. At that time Eads said a 4-1 “super majority” was required to transfer property. However after further review and consulting with other attorneys, he determined the four-fifths majority wasn’t needed because it was an “amended” agreement not an all new agreement.
Developer KBM Commercial Properties of Bristol Tennessee has been notified the deal can proceed, Eads said.
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