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Commission rescinds $584K for sewer lines at new Sullivan East Middle

Rick Wagner • Jul 19, 2019 at 6:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s governing body has pulled its $584,000 funding of larger trunk lines for the sewer project to serve the new Sullivan East Middle School. However, it explicitly approved the Board of Education spending $1,025,200 in General Fund reserves to fund the project, which is to be completed by year’s end with smaller lines.

In addition, the County Commission appointed former Commissioner Joe Herron to the commission seat left vacant by the resignation of Pat Shull, who recently took office as Kingsport’s mayor. The commission opted not to delay the vote so another interested hopeful, Charles Honaker, could attend the meeting. The commission also approved a plan to move forward with the renovation and construction of Emergency Medical Services stations across the county.

SEWER LINE QUESTION FINALLY ANSWERED?

The commission Thursday evening voted 16-4 with one abstaining and three absent to approve the resolution to withdraw the $584,000 as sponsored by Herschel Glover and co-sponsored by Dwight King, with the Glover-accepted amendment by Gary Stidham to spell out the school board could spend the $1,025,200. It was with a waiver of rules, requiring no second reading.

“We’re not against the school system at all,” Glover said after the vote, adding that he thought it was clear the additional funding approved by the commission in May was to change the contract to upgrade 4-inch forced-flow sewer pipe to 6-inch pipe and install an 8-inch gravity flow line to serve Sullivan East High School. Now there is no question the project will be done with the 4-inch pipe, and Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said it is on track to be completed in December, in time for the middle school to open in January.

WHAT WAS THE STINKY ISSUE? 

However, the contract never was changed to include 6- and 8-inch inch lines, and the change was not called for in the May commission resolution, although an attachment laid out plans for the larger pipe. Rafalowski said that engineers with Mattern & Craig said that the larger lines would cause maintenance problems and create the likelihood for a stench, something that Commissioner Colette George said that she didn’t feel qualified to judge. George also said she would not vote to rescind the funding.

Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes, in Gatlinburg for the Summer Law Institute of the Tennessee School Boards Association, also cited the possibility for a sewer stench in an afternoon phone interview. Commissioner David Akard said he was “pretty pissed off we’re dealing with this” and questioned why Hughes was not present at the meeting. Commissioner Mark Hutton said he was unhappy the commission and school board couldn’t work together on the issue.

“Nothing they passed indicated a 6-inch line, anyway,” Hughes said. “The engineering would not recommend a 6-inch line. They go as far as to say a larger line would cause odor.”

However, Glover said it was clear to him the commission intended for the more than half a million dollars to go toward larger lines and hook up Sullivan East High at no additional cost to the school system. The system as it is being built would handle about 70 homes and some businesses, the two schools and a potential new elementary school, Hughes said, while the system with larger lines would do the same but go up to about 220 homes.

Glover said the larger lines were for 15 to 25 years down the road. “The County Commission voted to install 6-inch lines,” Glover said.

COULD THINGS BE CLEARER IN THE FUTURE?

County Attorney Dan Street implored commissioners to make their resolutions and motions very specific, especially after the “Therefore be it resolved” language of resolutions.

He also urged the commissioners, including 15 new ones elected in the last election, to follow the Tennessee “Sunshine Law,” question procedural matters in “real time” as the commission deliberates in public and speak up if they want to continue discussion before a vote or vote on a sponsor accepting an amendment, both of which one commissioner has the power to require.

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