BLOUNTVILLE — With no budget in place for a budget year that begins in less than four weeks, and an estimated gap of $5 million between funding requests and projected revenue in the county’s general fund, some Sullivan County commissioners are starting to suggest cutting a program previously heralded as an innovative economic development necessity.
“Educate and Grow” is funded by local governments to give local high school graduates the opportunity to further their education at Northeast State Community College.
Sullivan County has for several years set aside $200,000 in its annual budget to provide funding for the scholarship program, which has been viewed as a model by other localities.
Members of the Sullivan County Commission’s Administrative Committee, however, have voted to recommend eliminating all county funding for the program beginning July 1.
Some who spoke to the Times-News said the committee largely believed the county’s funding for the program just isn’t needed as much as it was when the program was developed because many or most students now get scholarships through the Tennessee Lottery.
But the county seems to be low on any specifics when it comes to how many local students get money for college from the lottery — or for that matter, how many are getting any of the $200,000.
County officials who were asked about the latter figure Tuesday — just how much of the $200,000 is used each year? — were unable to answer.
County Commissioner Dwight King said the real question is whether or not the county can afford the program, regardless of how many students it helps or whether or not it is a successful economic development tool.
The Administrative Committee’s recommendation to cut the Educate and Grow funding from the county’s upcoming budget will be forwarded to the County Commission’s Budget Committee — which in turn will vote up or down on including the funding in the budget it eventually brings for a vote by the full commission.
Among other cuts recommended by the Administrative Committee:
• All county funding ($5,750) to the Dawn of Hope.
• Half of all county funding to city parks — $12,500 to Bristol parks and recreation; $15,000 to Bays Mountain Park (used by county schools for educational field trips); and $5,000 to Bluff City Park.
• Half of all county funding to the State Street Farmers Market in Bristol ($3,500).
• All county funding to the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, which promotes the region with national and/or regional advertising campaigns.
• All county funding to the Bristol Housing and Redevelopment and Authority and the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority ($10,000 each — the agencies provide an important administrative link in redevelopment efforts that use Tax Increment Financing).
• All county funding ($10,239) to the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center at Elizabethton. Commissioners have said they believe no Sullivan County residents receive service from the facility.
• $288,817 in funding for fire protection — cutting $10,000 each from 12 fire departments across the county (taking them back to their funding levels from two years ago), and an additional $168,817 contribution toward the purchase of a new fire truck.
• $40,001 in funding for rescue squads/lifesaving crew — cutting $10,000 each from four volunteer emergency response agencies across the county (taking them back to their funding levels from two years ago).
• All county funding ($6,000) to the American Red Cross.
The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.