The Sullivan County Commission raised the issue of consolidating the governments and school systems of Kingsport and the county last month. On Tuesday, the commission voted to move forward with the creation of a consolidation committee.
Earlier this month, a majority of the BMA expressed support for a consolidation study. City leaders thought the study would include the pros and cons of merging Kingsport and Sullivan County along with a recommendation.
However, as explained Tuesday by Mayor Dennis Phillips, the request from the county is actually for the creation of a consolidation committee - not an informal study.
"If we approve a committee, then our say-so is finished," Phillips said. "We do have to realize that we are charged with doing what's best for the city."
For consolidation to move forward, Kingsport would have to approve the creation of the committee.
City Attorney Mike Billingsley said the committee would be composed of 15 members - 10 appointed by the county and five by the city. This committee would have nine months to draft a charter on how Kingsport and Sullivan County would be structured. This charter would then be forwarded to the Sullivan County Election Commission, which would place the matter on a referendum to be voted on during a special election.
If approved by the voters of Sullivan County and Kingsport, a metro government would be formed and Kingsport would cease to exist, Billingsley said.
"If we don't appoint a commission, it can't happen," Phillips said. "I think before we raise our hands to appoint our committee we be fully aware of the repercussions it would cause."
City Manager John Campbell said city and county leaders should probably look at school facilities in some comprehensive way but warned that school consolidation is a bigger issue and that total consolidation is a much bigger issue.
"The train is on the track, and Kingsport would have no more control once it votes on the commission," Campbell said.
Alderman Pat Shull told the Sullivan County Commission Tuesday morning he was not inclined to support government consolidation unless he was absolutely convinced the citizens of Kingsport would be better served, at lower costs, than the current arrangement.
"(The Sullivan County Commission) jumped right to a formal commission and could have undertaken an informal study," Shull said.
Billingsley said the county could do an informal study without the city's approval.
Phillips said Kingsport would cooperate with the county, but not when it jeopardizes the city's school system.
"The fact is that under consolidated government and education system, it would absolutely cause a substantial tax increase on county residents or a substantial reduction in services," Phillips said. "I really feel that this board would not be doing the right thing to recommend appointing a commission that the end result could be the city losing its school system, one of its schools and possibly a part of its citizens."