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Sullivan wheel tax, sales tax hike proposals fall through

August 21st, 2012 2:30 am by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — Separate proposals to have Sullivan County voters consider a wheel tax and a sales tax increase in November bit the dust Monday.

Commissioner Dwight King withdrew what had been his proposal for a wheel tax referendum, saying he'd come to the conclusion it isn't the "right climate" for such an effort, coming on the heels of the County Commission's approval of a 20 cent property tax increase.

King's proposal would have linked implementation of a wheel tax, if approved by voters, to a reduction of the property tax rate in an equal amount.

A majority of commissioners rejected a separate proposal that would have placed a referendum on the November ballot to increase the sales tax rate in the county.

In other action Monday. the commission:

• Appointed former Kingsport Alderman Pat Shull to a District 11 commission seat vacated last month by the resignation of Joe Herron. The commission appointed Shull to serve until voters elect Herron's replacement in November. Shull is the GOP nominee for the slot. The Democratic nominee is Carl E. Hale.

• Approved transfer of dental equipment to two local nonprofit agencies. The equipment had been used for several years by the Sullivan County Regional Health Department Children's Dental Clinic, which the department ceased to operate last year. The commission approved giving the equipment to Friends in Need in Kingsport and Helping Hands in Bristol.

• Approved, under what several commissioners said seemed unusual protocol, providing about $50,000 in county funding to help the city of Bristol cover a nearly $100,000 matching amount to a state grant of about $450,000 to pay for construction of a Sprint call center. The new facility, nearly complete, is a relocation of a Sprint operation that has been in Washington County, Va. When Sprint announced plans to relocate the center last year, local economic development officials worked to get the facility moved to Sullivan County. Commissioners said between 400 and 600 people will work at the call center -- many or most of whom will initially be coming from the Washington County, Va., facility it is replacing.

Even some of the commissioners who were listed as sponsors of the resolution to kick in the county's $50,000 seemed hard pressed to explain exactly how the county became involved. Some of the supporting paperwork with the resolution seemed to indicate Bristol agreed to pony up the whole $100,000 in matching money.

County Mayor Steve Godsey said Bristol asked the county to split that commitment with the city. Sponsors of the resolution said it came to them from Godsey's office. Others asked why, if the project began months ago, the possibility of giving $50,000 in county money wasn't raised during the budget development process. And some questioned dipping into the county's general fund so soon in the budget cycle -- when they just raised county property taxes, in part to try and build up the general fund's balance.

Godsey said the money won't be coming out of the general fund. Godsey said the $50,000 will come from another seldom-mentioned account, money he said the county keeps on hand for making such investments. Godsey said that account has a balance of $300,000 or $400,000, and the $50,000 can come out of there.

• Approved a resolution to have the county's purchasing department issue a request for proposals from companies to provide ankle bracelet tracking/monitoring, which could be used to further reduce the population of the county jail. Debate of the issue featured some intense sparring, notably between Sheriff Wayne Anderson and Commissioner Eddie Williams. Williams argued the resolution was of no value and that the Kingsport area judges who have agreed to use such devices already have a private company they prefer to use.

Commissioner Bill Kilgore asked how the company being used by the Kingsport area judges got the job -- was it bid out? -- but the question was not answered.

Anderson said he's simply trying to provide a possibly less expensive alternative, which perhaps could be more utilized.

The heated conversation between the two continued in a back hallway of the courthouse even after a wide majority of commissioners approved the plan to seek proposals.

Williams said he goes to church with Judge Ray Conkin, and they talk about the ankle bracelets every week. Williams said Conkin and Judge Mark Toohey will not use any other company than the one already in use in the Kingsport area.

Anderson said Williams, longtime chairman of the commission's Budget Committee, has had private meetings -- specifically claiming he could prove Williams and others meet in private prior to public Budget Committee meetings.

Williams said Anderson might be able to prove he and others eat together, but he couldn't prove they talk about county business.

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