Sullivan commissioners may discuss funding for veterans service programs

J. H. Osborne • Jun 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The county currently budgets $11,900 per year for veterans assistance programs.

BLOUNTVILLE — The future of county funding for veterans service programs is among likely topics today at the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly meeting.

The commission could vote on a proposal that would cut off funding to local American Legion programs intended to assist veterans.

The money would be redirected to help pay for a new, Blountville-based county position to be appointed by County Mayor Steve Godsey.

The county currently budgets $11,900 per year for veterans assistance programs: $8,000 goes to the American Legion in Kingsport; $3,900 goes to Bristol.

County Commissioner Sam Jones is sponsor of a resolution to eliminate the county’s contribution to those programs in favor of creating a new county office: Sullivan County veterans service officer.

Jones said Godsey has offered county office space to be used for the new position.

“We’re not asking for additional dollars ... but to keep it here,” Jones said earlier this month.

A former Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander, Jones said he’s often been asked by new veterans or their families how to get assistance or information about federal benefits.

Jones said during the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007, nearly $13.16 million in veterans benefits was paid to individuals living in Sullivan County. Based on 2000 census figures, Jones said, over 18,000 “civilian” veterans (those who are no longer active or reserve military members) lived in the county.

Under Jones’ proposal, the person appointed by Godsey would be required to: be a resident of Sullivan County; be a trained and accredited veterans service officer of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; and be an honorably discharged veteran.

After the issue became public, two co-sponsors pulled their names from Jones’ proposal.

County Commissioner Joe Herron said he’d gotten telephone calls about the proposal and had been approached while shopping in Wal-Mart by constituents opposed to the move.

Herron said he told those folks he’d take his name off as prime sponsor, and he did.

Commissioner Bill Kilgore took his name off the proposal a day earlier, saying he wanted more information.

Multiple commissioners have spoken in favor of the American Legion’s service to veterans through the Kingsport office.

A popular suggestion that’s emerged among commissioners: continue funding the office operated by the American Legion in Kingsport, but perhaps begin to implement a county office in Blountville — if information emerges showing the move could enhance current services.

Also up for a potential vote today: a proposal to ask the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to leave a soon-to-be-replaced bridge on Highway 75 in place for use as a pedestrian bridge.

For two months the Sullivan County Commission has deferred action on a resolution regarding the bridge. Commissioners said they were waiting on the state to respond to questions about how leaving the bridge in place could cost so much.

Last week, a TDOT spokesman told the Times-News that state highway officials stand by their earlier estimate of $6 million to convert the bridge, near Boone Dam, for pedestrian use.

The total cost could reach $8.4 million if a replacement bridge is redesigned in order to keep the old bridge standing, according to TDOT.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. June 16 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse. An opportunity for public comment occurs each month near the beginning of the meeting.

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

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