Sullivan County leaders could vote on donation of highway department equipment

J. H. Osborne • May 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners could vote today on whether to give some county highway department equipment to a city in the Central American nation of Honduras.

A resolution to “transfer” ownership of the equipment — four trucks and a paving roller deemed “surplus” property by the county’s highway commissioner — to the city of Siguatepeque is listed as “old business” on the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly agenda.

That means it needs at least 13 votes from the 24-member commission to gain approval.

Commissioner Joe Herron, of the Kingsport area, is lead sponsor of the resolution to give the equipment to the foreign city.

He told the Times-News earlier this month that he doubted 13 commissioners would vote “yes” on the issue.

Proponents have said the equipment is “basically our garbage,” “antiquated,” “worthless,” and “obsolete” — but say this plan is a classic example of “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” and the equipment would be highly useful and appreciated by people of third-world Siguatepeque . The people there, unburdened by regulations, would “rig” the equipment for use in paving the developing city’s streets, proponents say.

Last year, county commissioners approved a “goodwill agreement” with Siguatepeque to become “sister communities.” The relationship is not recognized or affiliated with the Sister Cities International program, Herron said earlier this month.

The county typically sells surplus property at public auction. One is scheduled next month.

Asked by the Times-News last month what the items in question might be worth, county Purchasing Agent Nelda Fleenor said while it’s difficult to place comparison values on property without having them side by side, her search of Internet listings found similar items with average selling prices of $4,000 to $5,000 each. She pointed out, however, that county surplus sales are “absolute auctions,” which means items sell no matter how small the final bid.

County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope said the county’s highway department last sold trucks at public auction in 1999. At that time, he said, four trucks were sold for $5,400 total. But he said the department’s mechanics spent a week working on the trucks prior to the auction, and the trucks had to be towed to the auction site. Pope said the trucks being considered for giving to Siguatepeque probably get about 4.5 miles per gallon. “I can’t see anybody wanting to fool with them right now,” Pope said.

At one point in earlier discussions of the proposal, Herron said he was willing to put up $1,000 of his own money toward purchase of the equipment so that it can be given to Siguatepeque.

Pope has also said his department would spend more getting the equipment prepared for scrapping than it would bring if sold for scrap metal.

The resolution on the equipment is just one of 28 listed for commission consideration as of Friday afternoon.

Also on “old business” is a resolution to ask the state to give the county the steel truss bridge on Highway 75 near Boone Dam — rather than demolishing the bridge — so it can be converted to pedestrian use, and possibly serve as a centerpiece for development of public greenspace and walking trails. The bridge is scheduled for replacement with a new bridge to be built a short distance upstream. In a letter to the county’s mayor, the state’s top road official estimated the cost to leave the bridge for use by pedestrians could cost up to $8.4 million.

“New business” on the agenda includes a resolution to authorize a “continuing budget” for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It’s a move designed to make sure the county’s business will go on uninterrupted — county department’s can continue to spend at this year’s levels — if the county commission has not approved a new budget July 1.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

For more information about Sullivan County government, including how to contact individual commissioners and other elected officials, visit www.sullivancounty.org.

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