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Sullivan Commissioners accused of bringing county to borderline bankruptcy

May 22nd, 2012 3:50 am by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — Once again Monday, the Sullivan County Commission turned to the county’s “surplus” to cover shortfalls in the county’s budget.

The commission approved using $144,500 to help offset higherthan-budgeted costs for operations at the sheriff’s office and jail. It’s not the $180,000 identified earlier as needed to make sure the sheriff’s office and jail can meet payroll and other expenses through June 30 — when the current 12-month budget cycle ends — but Sheriff Wayne Anderson said he and his staff would make it work.

The county’s budget crunch seems to be provoking some officials and county employees to be more frank — tossing aside concerns about losing friends or popularity.

First thing Monday morning, Register of Deeds Bart Long — a former county commissioner himself — got things rolling by telling the full County Commission they’ve “laid down on the job” and brought county government to “borderline bankruptcy.”

As the day drew to a close, at a budget-related “work session,” Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism Director Shelia Steele Hunt lamented “This isn’t going to make me very popular,” and went on to say every time she and her staff visit the county courthouse they witness “a lot of waste in personnel.”

“We see people with their feet up,” Hunt said. “Sitting with nothing to do. I’ve heard it said by some that they don’t have anything to do for two weeks.”

Hunt, like Long and a whole cavalcade of others throughout the day, finished up by calling for teamwork and cooperation among all departments and employees to solve the county’s budget woes.

Long said all he has ever wanted is for everyone to get along as a group and solve problems to best serve county residents.

“I am going to lose some friends today,” Long said, going on to say he is “sick and tired” of the commission telling constitutional officeholders it’s their fault when the budget is tight. “I’ve tried to bite my tongue, but I’m over it.”

Long said it’s the commission’s job, under state law, to create revenue. He and the other constitutional officeholders, he said, are supposed to provide services.

Long said Anderson has operated the sheriff’s department and jail on the same budget for seven years despite rising costs beyond his control, such as gas — which long said was $1.70 a gallon seven years ago and has been near $4 this budget year — and an evergrowing number of inmates in the jail.

“I’ve heard some of you say ‘We’ve got to run the county like it’s a business,’ ” Long said. “If it was a business, they’d be firing the CEO, and there would be an investigation into where all the money went.”

As the county’s surpluses have dwindled, Long said the commission has spent its time talking about “stop signs and barking dogs.” Long said the commission has “lost focus of the job” it is supposed to do, and “sadly, you’re going to burden these people with a tax increase.”

“You’ve been kicking the can down the road,” Long said. “And you’ve run out of road.”

Read the expanded version of this report in today's print edition of the Times-News or its enhanced electronic edition.

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