BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Highway Department plans to pave a parking lot for the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department, according to a proposal under consideration by the Sullivan County Commission.
County Attorney Dan Street said state law forbids such a move.
“It is a crime,” Street said.
But County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope said it’s OK for his department to work on non-county property, as long as the work is being done for a nonprofit agency that’s supported by the county — and that nonprofit reimburses the county for the cost of the project.
According to a resolution sponsored by County Commissioners Terry Harkleroad, Pat Patrick and Michael Surgenor, the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department “has accumulated their own funding to pay $9,000 toward financing a paved parking lot.”
Pope said that would likely cover the county’s cost to pave the parking lot.
The resolution does not describe the size of the project.
The county commission’s Executive Committee took no action on the issue last week after Street said state law forbids county highway departments from doing any work on non-governmental property.
Pope was not present at that meeting, but attended the commission’s Budget Committee meeting the next night.
He said he’d heard about Street’s comments the night before — and assured Budget Committee members that he’d been given a thumbs up on the plan by someone with the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association (TCHOA) in Nashville.
“If it’s a nonprofit supported by the county and they pay we can do it,” Pope said, adding he does need approval, however, from the full County Commission to proceed with such a project.
Pope also said that when he asked the TCHOA official if the practice is legal, a lawyer for the state’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) was present — and he didn’t say anything.
The Budget Committee then gave the resolution its endorsement.
On Friday the Times-News asked Street if state law allows county highway departments to do work for nonprofit agencies, if the county provides support to the agency and the agency reimburses the county.
Street said no.
He said state law does allow county highway departments to do work for other governmental entities, such as cities, the U.S. Postal Service, and the county school board — as long as those entities at least partially reimburse the county for the cost of the work done.
The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. June 16 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.