KINGSPORT - The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has declined to participate in a consolidated government study with Sullivan County and has made a counteroffer to create a committee to look at areas of mutual cooperation, such as planning, services and education.
Earlier this year, the Sullivan County Commission voted on a proposal by Commissioner John McKamey to create a consolidation committee. However, the proposal did not call for an informal study, as once thought, but rather a formal committee under state law which could have resulted in a referendum to form a metro government in Sullivan County.
Once Kingsport leaders discovered a vote on this measure meant giving up their future "say so" on the issue, they decided not to participate.
Last month, McKamey again proposed a consolidation committee to the Sullivan County Commission - this time not based on state law. Last week, the BMA voted unanimously to decline the offer and countered with an offer of its own - the creation of a public services study committee to look at areas of government where Kingsport and Sullivan County could work together.
"The city of Kingsport strives daily to provide the most efficient services possible for the lowest achievable cost to our citizens," City Manager John Campbell said. "With that said, we are always open to working cooperatively with our county and city governments to try to lower those costs even further."
The proposed makeup of the committee includes the mayors of Kingsport, Bluff City, Bristol and Sullivan County; the city managers of Kingsport and Bristol; the city recorder of the town of Bluff City; the accounts and budget director for Sullivan County; a representative from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service; and a representative of the County Technical Advisory Service.
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips said the reason he voted against McKamey's proposal is because he does not want to do anything to mislead people into thinking the BMA is seriously considering a consolidated government at this time.
"I think any time you form committees to study things, the problem is they take on a life of their own. Some people could possibly read more into it than is there," Phillips said. "However, I absolutely think we need to consolidate some services or at least work together on some of the services."
Some of the possible areas the committee could look at are planning, services, education, joint business park locations, and solid waste collection.
"These are things I think we need to look at without the pressure of feeling like consolidation is coming out of it. If people feel like consolidation will come out of it, I think it will taint the process," Phillips said, adding a good start would be with the school system. "One thing to consider, we're always asking the county to let city students go to county schools. I'd like for us to consider if there are areas within the county that the city could take some students."
Phillips said he plans to talk to Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey about the proposal next month.
Phillips said the NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership could ultimately be the vehicle to take the lead on the issue.
"I think most people feel as we do, that it will be perfectly OK to study some areas and take it a step at a time," Phillips said. "I think the problem is, you don't turn your back and not do anything. We certainly didn't do that."
Godsey endorsed the BMA's suggestion last week, saying he understood Kingsport's position.
"I think it's a good idea. I think we have such a good working relationship already, and they understand that I have some areas of need and desire for us to work more closely together."
Godsey said he thinks it would have been very difficult to move forward with consolidation since Kingsport, Bristol and Sullivan County are each top-notch government entities with their own identification.
"It's difficult for people to give up that identity and go to one system," Godsey said. "If we were really all having major problems, there may be more of an interest in that. As well as we seem to work together, I think we can make it work just as well."
McKamey said he doesn't see the point in forming the committee, given that Phillips and Godsey meet on a regular basis already.
"They do that now. I think it's something that's already being done," McKamey said, calling the BMA's decision not to participate a "missed opportunity."
"I think it was a good opportunity to look at it," he said. "We have lot of people in Sullivan County extremely knowledgeable with consolidated government.
"I just thought it was time to look at it."