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Sullivan County moves step closer to consolidation study

January 9th, 2007 12:06 am by J. H. Osborne



BLOUNTVILLE - It looks like the Sullivan County Commission will again vote in favor of putting a group in place to develop a charter for consolidated government.


The County Commission's Administrative Committee endorsed creation of the group Monday. The commission's Executive Committee gave it a thumbs-up last week. The proposal to form the charter committee will go before the commission's Budget Committee later this week - and could come for a vote by the full commission next week.


If it's adopted by the full commission - it would need 13 "yes" votes from the 24-member body - it'll require approval of a similar measure by the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen to be effective.


That's because Kingsport is the most populated city in the county, and state law requires the most populated city in a county to be onboard for a consolidated government effort to proceed.


If the committee is formed, voters would ultimately approve or reject consolidated government.


The last time the County Commission voted to form such a group, in 1998, the BMA never even talked about it.


When asked by the Times-News a few days ago, however, a majority of BMA members said they favor creation of such a group now.


Voters countywide rejected consolidated government on two different occasions is the 1980s.


Commissioner John McKamey is sponsor of the resolution being considered by the county.


Among the reasons he says consolidation should be considered: duplication of services among the five different governments now operating within the county; increased political clout for the county's residents if they're viewed as a single group at the state level; and an ability for countywide, long-range planning for school needs - instead of three systems, all looking at expansive building programs.


"A lot of things have changed in the last 20 years," McKamey said Monday. "We need to think about 20 years down the road. This is an opportunity. It'll be a hard sale ... but it's time we all have a vision ... and forget about our own little kingdoms."


Commissioner Mark Vance, of Bristol, said he's been told the "astronomical costs" of equalization of teachers' salaries has always been the downfall of consolidation talks. Vance said he's been told the last failed consolidation effort would have caused a $1 to $1.50 increase on property tax rates.


Harry Boggs, chairman of the committee that produced that failed 1988 consolidation charter, told Vance he should consider the source of that claim.


"Whoever told you that must have been anti(-consolidation)," Boggs said.


The biggest failure of the 1988 group, Boggs said, was not offering enough opportunities for the public to learn about consolidation.


"If you do do it this time, do it right," Boggs said. "Educate the people. And make sure those on the committee are there to be serious about developing a good charter."


Boggs suggested hiring professionals to produce the charter, to remove politics from the process.


County Attorney Dan Street has said state law provides for creation of a consolidation committee, with its membership appointed by the county mayor (10 members) and the largest city's (Kingsport's) mayor (five members).


McKamey's proposal for creation of a charter committee could next be discussed by the commission's Budget Committee at 7 p.m. on Thursday. It could come for a vote by the full commission on Jan. 16, when the commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Both meetings are scheduled for the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.


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