BLOUNTVILLE — Across its many departments and offices, Sullivan County government owns 579 vehicles with current insurance coverage, according to public records on file with the county’s Risk Management office.
The county sheriff’s department holds the most vehicle titles (180), followed by Sullivan County Schools (135) and the Sullivan County Highway Department (126), according to the list of insured vehicles.
Review of the list also reveals recent transfer of two cars to offices that previously did not have vehicles assigned to them: the Sullivan County Election Office and the Sullivan County Register of Deeds.
The number of vehicles titled to the sheriff’s department was a question raised last week by several members of the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee — during an unadvertised “emergency” meeting of the group at which Committee Chairman Eddie Williams revealed what he described as a $600,000 shortfall in the county’s budgeted amount for the sheriff’s office and jail this year.
Sheriff Wayne Anderson and members of his staff agreed there is a shortfall — due primarily to rising fuel costs and more overtime than during the previous budget year — but estimated the amount to be considerably less than $600,000.
The meeting concluded with Williams and sheriff’s personnel planning to sit down and compare figures. The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet in called session this week to address the shortfall and how to fix it.
Throughout the meeting, but especially near its end, committee members sharpened their focus to questions about how many vehicles the sheriff’s department and jail have in service — and more to the point, several members voiced regret at their own decision last month to OK buying several new vehicles.
Commissioners Robert White and Mark Bowery told Anderson they would not have supported that use of funds — included in Anderson’s budget from the get-go as the fiscal year began last summer — had they known he was going to need more money for fuel before the end of the budget year.
White said he’d felt assured, by the sheriff, before that vote last month that there would not be a request for more money due to fuel costs.
But Anderson said when asked last month about possibly needing more money to cover fuel for the rest of the budget cycle, that he had not ruled it out — but had said either way his department needed the new vehicles to replace others that have upwards of 150,000 miles on them.
White ultimately asked if the new cars could be canceled, and if so, would Anderson be willing to accept the cancellation in light of the apparent deficiencies unfolding in his budget.
County Purchasing Agent Kris Davis said it was too late, for the most part, to consider that option.
Davis said the majority of the vehicles in question already were en route to Blountville.
Later in the week, the Times-News asked Davis about vehicles the Budget Committee expects the sheriff to get rid of as the new ones are added to his roster. Davis provided a list of 18 vehicles that will be placed for auction on govdeals.com.
The list of insured vehicles from Risk Management shows that the Sullivan County Property Assessor’s office has two new 2012 Chevrolet Impalas. When those vehicles arrived, two older model cars were apparently transferred from the Property Assessor’s office to the Election Office (a 1999 Ford Taurus) and the Register of Deeds (a 2002 Impala).
Administrator of Elections Jason Booher told the Times-News his office had first been loaned the vehicle for use in elections, and it had later been transferred officially from Property Assessor Bobby Icenhour.
Booher said the 13-year-old Taurus, with more than 104,000 miles on it, is “used to transport supplies to early voting and election day voting locations, to deliver absentee ballots to the post office during an election, and other official business.”
“It is not in daily use,” Booher said. “This ... prevents us from having to reimburse staff for mileage on their personal vehicles at a higher cost to the county. There is no plans to replace the vehicle as it was only made available for our limited use because it is of a higher value to the county in terms of cost savings than if it were sold. If at any time the vehicle does not reduce our expenses it will not be used by us.”
The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee is scheduled to meet in called session at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.