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Long-term recovery group to return tornado relief funds to Princeton-Caldwell chamber

Princeton Mayor Kota Young speaks about donated funds at the Caldwell County Long-Term Recovery Group meeting in September.
Lily Burris
Princeton Mayor Kota Young speaks about donated funds at the Caldwell County Long-Term Recovery Group meeting in September.

This story has been updated.

The Caldwell County Long-Term Recovery Group met Wednesday to discuss potential uses for the funds the group received in the wake of the December tornado outbreak.

More than $325,000 in donations went to Princeton-Caldwell Chamber of Commerce’s relief fund in the immediate wake of the disaster. In late July, the funds – none of which had been allocated over the previous eight months – were transferred to the long-term recovery group’s account with the Community Foundation of West Kentucky.

A lengthy discussion Wednesday about how best to manage these funds and what rules had to be followed ultimately resulted in them being put back in the hands of the Princeton-Caldwell Chamber. The long-term recovery group voted unanimously to return the fund in its entirety so it could be spent as its donors intended.

Princeton Mayor Kota Young said there’s been some misunderstanding about donors’ intentions for the funds they contributed and the rules that bind long-term recovery groups.

“It's come to our attention recently that there is a disconnect between the way that the LTRGs operate and our mission and the intent of the donors for the chamber fund,” Young said. “We completely respect that, we appreciate where y'all are coming from, and we in no way want to keep those funds from being spent or expended, like they originally intended.”

The long-term recovery group is bound by Internal Revenue Service standards and practices when it comes to disbursing payments, which are then identified by Catholic Charities’ case management system.

Officials initially weren’t sure that could be done.

“It's not just as simple as, ‘Hey, we're gonna give you all this money back, and you're just gonna hand it out,’” Chamber President Heather Riley said. “We went through a lot of process to get it where it was and now I don't know that it's as simple as just, ‘Hey, y'all, here's the money back.’”

Young said this move would allow for a continuing case management process for the long-term recovery group’s separate funding – which currently mandates proving financial need before getting assistance – and the development of a simpler, alternative one for the chamber’s $325,000.

Chris Dockins, the chief operations officer for the Community Foundation of West Kentucky, said that ultimately everyone in attendance had the same goal.

“First of all, we have good hearts in this room and we're all here to support the community, right?” Dockins said. “And we're problem solvers and we can find solutions and I have no doubt in my mind between the knowledge Katina [Hayden, director of case management for Catholic Charities out of the Owensboro Diocese] brings with some of the other ones that have been through disaster stuff before that we can find a solution.”

Jeff Simms, District 4 Magistrate for Caldwell County, said the group couldn’t lose sight of the people in need in the community.

“I just want to remind us all that we're here to be compassionate for these people that have suffered life changing trauma and they continue every day to suffer that,” he said.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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