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Sullivan leaders defer action on brush pickup

J. H. Osborne • Oct 15, 2012 at 10:05 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal to revive taxpayer-funded curbside brush pickup for some county residents remains in limbo.

The program was eliminated by the Sullivan County Commission a few months ago. Commissioner Moe Brotherton, sponsor of the call to restart the program, again deferred action on the issue Monday.

Two other hot-button issues got a thumbs-up from the commission: a proposal to seek a change in state law to accommodate the county’s decades-old practice of appointing more members to its budget committee than dictated in current law, and funding for refurbishment of a 30-year-old elevator at the county jail.

It was the second time in as many months that Brotherton deferred action on the brush pickup resolution, doing so last month after several commissioners said they want to hear more about alternative ways to offer the service, such as establishment of a public works department, or through some sort of fee-based program where only users would pay the costs.

State law requires that the total costs of anything done by the highway department that is not road related be paid back, dollar for dollar, to the highway department by the county’s general fund.

That money trail has never been established on the county’s books when the highway department has provided curbside brush pickup to some county residents in the past.

Interim Highway Commissioner Terry Shaffer estimated it was costing county taxpayers $200,000 per year to provide curbside brush pickup in recent years.

The service was not available to all county residents — and was not available to any city residents, although all county residents, including those in the cities, were being taxed to help fund it.

For decades the Sullivan County Commission hasn’t exactly followed state law when it comes to a county budget committee. The commission voted Monday to ask for a rewrite of state law — so the law will match what has been common practice in Sullivan County.

Only Commissioner Bill Kilgore asked why the county doesn’t just follow state law.

State law says a county budget committee shall be five members, including the county mayor or his designee — and does not limit membership to county commissioners. Sullivan County has a long history of appointing an eight-member all-commissioner budget committee.

The commission voted to ask state legislators to change state law to read “five or more members.”

Also Monday, Commissioners John Crawford and Eddie Williams amended their resolution seeking funds for the elevator, rolling back the cost estimate from $52,000 to $37,000.

That reduction is based on switching the repair schedule from weekend work to weekday work, which will cut the estimated labor costs, Crawford said.

The jail budget for the current fiscal year did not include funding, per se, for such a project. And the commission had voted earlier this year to eliminate most capital funding from the budgets for the sheriff’s office, jail and all other county departments.

According to the resolution, such repairs in the past had been paid for from capital funds.

Several commissioners voted against the funding — citing fears it could be used against the county in court.

Commissioner Dwight King said approving the funding for the elevator could be construed as the commission admitting it did not adequately fund the sheriff’s department and jail — which is what Sheriff Wayne Anderson claims in a lawsuit seeking more money from the county.

County Mayor Steve Godsey, however, said the elevator’s continued service is necessary to meet federal law, and that means it could turn into a bigger issue than the current lawsuit.

“We need to all work together on this,” Godsey said.

Anderson promised the commission he would make sure his lawyer in the lawsuit would eliminate mention of the elevator from a list of maintenance and repair projects included as items that need to be funded.

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