Sullivan committee recommends cuts to Educate and Grow, volunteer fire departments, others

Rick Wagner • Jun 14, 2013 at 11:10 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s annual $200,000 Educate and Grow Scholarship appropriation is money better spent elsewhere, the Sullivan County Commission’s Administrative Committee voted Thursday night.

In a series of budget-cutting recommendations spearheaded by Commissioner Ed Marsh, the committee also wants to cut all appropriations to Frontier Health, including roughly $300,000 for the operation of Sullivan House, and slice more than $6.3 million of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed increase down to a lawsuit settlement costing about $105,000 and $350,000 for capital.

In addition, the group wants to cut $10,000 from each volunteer fire department and rescue squad in the county, as well as trim county commissioner pay to $6,000, down from $7,112 a year — an amount scheduled to go to $7,440 on July 1.

The committee, in a 3-2 vote with two absent and Chairman Bryan Boyd not voting, recommended the county abandon Educate and Grow, which provides tuition to academically qualified Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., high school graduates who go directly into Northeast State Community College the fall after graduating high school.

“I don’t think we can afford it anymore,” said Marsh, of Blountville. “I don’t think we should really be in that business anyway.”

Kingsport’s Pat Shull and Marsh cited the lottery-funded Hope Scholarship, with Shull adding: “Loans for college are incredibly easy to get.”

However, Dennis Houser of Blountville said the program, which began with Sullivan County and Kingsport, has grown throughout Northeast Tennessee, helping people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend college, get a degree and a job, and become taxpayers. And Boyd said that Gov. Bill Haslam has cited the program as one he might want to take statewide.

“When you cut this out, you are almost making it impossible for some kids to go to college,” Houser said. “It seems like Ed and me are from different planets tonight.”

In addition, Shull said that because only 25 percent of Sullivan County residents have a four-year degree, it is unfair to use their tax dollars to pay for the education of other people’s children.

On other budget items, the committee voted to cut all funding for Frontier Health to operate Sullivan House, which is $297,552 for the current year but has been requested to go up $14,628 to $307,180 for 2013-14. Marsh said the program handled 22 male students and indirectly three female ones throughout the year. Youth are sent there by juvenile court judges as a last resort before going into the juvenile detention center in Johnson City, to which the county pays $346,000 a year. The committee recommended that latter amount stay the same.

The vote was 4-0 with one abstention.

In the sheriff’s budget, the group discussed capital needs, including about 10 new vehicles, with Sheriff Wayne Anderson, who got the 2 percent pay raise for deputies as a lawsuit settlement earlier this year, and Chief Deputy Lisa Christian.

“I’m trying to show the true needs,” Anderson said, to which King replied: “We’ve go to live within our means.”

The vote was 3-1 with one pass.

Anderson’s request for the jail — an almost $3.4 million increase, from about $7.9 million to almost $11.3 million — was cut to the lawsuit increase of $75,136 and $100,000 in capital, which Christian said was sorely needed for, among other things, a new walk-in cooler.

Marsh’s motion to recommend cutting the commission’s pay, effective Sept. 1 at a savings of about $35,000 a year, passed 3-2. But Boyd said he had a problem cutting pay in the middle of commissioners’ four-year terms.

The commission has attached its pay to a percentage of the county mayor’s pay, which by Tennessee mandate is going up July 1. The county Board of Education, in turn, has attached its pay to match the commissioners’ pay.

In addition, the committee voted 3-2 to cut $10,000 each from 10 volunteer fire departments and four rescue squads and to cut $5,150 from the Sullivan County Firefighters Association. It also voted to recommend $69,359 in various Frontier Health funding be cut out completely, too.

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