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Chamber plans to give back $10K
Don Vizi - Chamber president.jpg
Chamber of Commerce president Don Vizi says he wants to return $10,000 the county donated to the Chamber last year.

Warren County government experienced what is likely a first in its history. A local nonprofit is returning a $10,000 donation.

“So, are you refusing the money?” asked Commissioner Tommy Savage. “Is that what you’re saying?

Those words of disbelief were expressed during Thursday’s meeting of the county Nonprofit Review Committee. Members met to provide initial consideration for a list of 24 donation requests from nonprofits for the upcoming fiscal year 2021-22.

McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce president Don Vizi announced the Chamber has failed to use the $10,000 given to it this current fiscal year and he’s decided to return those funds.

“We have not been able to allocate the money you gave us last year because of COVID requirements,” said Vizi. “Also, because when you give us money and the way the program was set up … the program was set up for you to give us the money and we then reinvest it in the business community. I’ve gone back to our auditor, looked at and said ‘I’m not sure, if the county gives me money that I can reinvest it into a for-profit organization.’ So, we will probably not spend that $10,000 that you gave us last year.” 

Replying to Savage’s comment, Vizi added, “Yes, sir. Last year’s funds. Not this year’s funds. This is a different type of program. Last year was designed for us to set up a program where we could actually give the money that you give to us to business and those are for-profit. I, personally, don’t think that’s a correct way to use your money. I think your controller also feels the same way. I also think our auditor feels the same way.”

Savage said, “You think, but have you talked to them yet?”

“I’ve talked to the auditor, yes,” said Vizi. “I have a statement from last year and I can read that to you. It’s hard for me to turn down money, but …”

Vizi read, “Upon application of county funds for the program last year, county finance director Justin Cotten reached out to the Tennessee Comptroller’s office regarding compliance and legality of the county giving funds to the Chamber, a 501(c)6, and then awarding it to for-profit businesses. Mr. Cotten reported back that he saw no issue. However, a year has passed since then, laws have changed and it would be in the best interest of the Chamber to get an opinion from a CPA auditor as well as the opinion of an attorney regarding releasing these funds to be safe.”

“I, personally, feel that I could not decide who would get the money that you gave us to give to a for-profit organization,” said Vizi. 

The announcement came immediately following the committee’s decision to allocate $10,000 to the Chamber in upcoming fiscal year 2021-22. Requested was $30,000.

“I’m lost,” said Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin. “Were there stipulations on last year’s money that there’s not on this year’s money?”

Vizi replied, “No.” 

Since the money was allocated by the county without stipulations for how it can be used, Bouldin questioned if the Chamber could use it on a different program, to which Vizi replied, “No. I understand that it’s probably not normal to give money back to the county.”

“Can you not just earmark it for the programs you’re doing now?” asked County Executive Jimmy Haley. “That would be the simplest thing, rather than giving it back, Mr. Vizi. Just keep it and earmark it for the new programs that you’re talking about.”

The $10,000 allocated in 2020 should have been spent between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, said Vizi, and the Chamber cannot spend it before that timeframe ends.