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Sullivan budget committee affirms increase to county school system's maintenance of effort

BLOUNTVILLE — Most members of Sullivan County’s Budget Committee affirmed Wednesday it is their intent to increase the county’s school system’s annual maintenance of effort by $2 million beginning July 1. County budget staff explained the move raises the bar on funding for years to come and could mean raising property taxes if sales tax revenues decline.

The committee voted 7-1 last week in favor of a motion by Commissioner Mark Vance to give the school system the same amount of property tax revenue for the coming budget year as it received this year.

When the committee met on Wednesday to go over a draft of the county’s whole budget (not just schools), Vance questioned why a line item for the school system’s revenue from the property tax had not been updated since last week’s vote.

County Mayor Richard Venable said the vote last week would be presented as a proposed amendment when the full commission gets its first look at the overall budget proposal.

That’s expected to happen next week. A final vote on the budget is expected to take place at a called meeting during the last week of the month.

Vance said that was not what he and others voted for last week. Vance said the committee meant to recommend the draft budget with the figures already changed to show the school system getting $22,694,718 from the county’s property tax rate — the same as the year coming to a close.

The county’s accounts and budgets office originally had shown the school system could be funded at the same level as last year by using growth in sales tax revenues — and reducing the system’s revenue from the county property tax rate.

That move would keep maintenance of effort at its current level. Maintenance of effort is required by the state and keeps localities from reducing how much they spend per pupil. Maintenance of effort only comes down if student enrollment decreases.

Vance said switching the county system’s funding away from the property tax rate would mean less county property tax revenue for city school systems in Bristol and Kingsport.

The county school system’s proposed budget totals nearly $89.96 million, up from $86.77 million approved for the current budget year.

The county’s proposed general fund budget is proposed at an estimated $68.44 million and is balanced with the use of $3.08 million from fund balance.

The county’s debt service fund increases by $4.1 million, to $20.63 million. The new jail is primarily responsible for the increase. The proposed budget shows an increase of nearly $6 million for debt service from property tax revenue. That’s about 16 cents on the current tax rate. It should be less under the certified tax rate, which is not yet known. The state provides the county with the certified tax rate, which is based on the new countywide valuation because this is a reappraisal year for the county.

Watch now: New ‘Tennessee Music Pathways’ markers honor Kingsport’s musical icons

KINGSPORT — Tennessee honored four musical icons of the Model City on Wednesday with the unveiling of new historical markers in downtown Kingsport.

These new “Tennessee Music Pathways” markers are located along Broad Street and are part of a 2018 initiative of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development meant to connect visitors to the state’s rich musical heritage via the website www.tnmusicpathways.com.

The markers honor four musicians with ties to Kingsport and can be found at the following locations:

• Lesley Riddle (located in front of the new city hall);

• Brownie McGhee (located at Glen Bruce Park);

• Barry Bales (located at Center and Broad);

• Doyle Lawson (located at Main and Broad).

Each marker includes pictures and biographical information about the musician and their career.

“We’re glad you’re here, we’re glad you’re going to get to see why these people have made such a difference in the music industry and for their communities and we get to honor these hometown legends,” said Mark Ezell, the Tennessee commissioner of tourism.


African American musician Lesley Riddle exerted an influence on country music through his association with A.P. Carter of the Carter Family. Riddle introduced Carter to songs of African Ameri- can origin and also helped Carter transcribe and adapt songs and hymns they collected across southern Appalachia.

Riddle was born in Burnsville, North Carolina, in June 1905, but he grew up with his paternal grandparents near Kingsport. A.P. Carter and Riddle were introduced in 1928 and quickly struck up a friendship and working relationship that led to “songcatcher” trips. When they found someone with a song that appealed to Carter, he would take down the lyrics while Riddle was charged with remembering the melody. Riddle then taught the songs to the other members of the Carter Family.

Riddle passed away in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1979.

“We’re thrilled to be here and I know if Lesley were here, he would be astounded with all of this attention,” said Ellen Denker, a relative of Riddle’s who attended Wednesday’s unveiling.


Walter Brown “Brownie” McGhee was born in Knoxville in November 1915 and grew up in Kingsport. McGhee’s music encompassed folk, acoustic blues, rhythm and blues and protest songs. He appeared in movies, on television and Broadway, and recorded prolifically.

McGhee began recording in 1940 and shortly after began working with up-and-coming harmonica player Sonny Terry. From there, McGhee’s career took off. He co-founded Encore Records in 1947 and had a No. 2 R&B hit “My Fault” in 1948.

Both McGhee and Terry were written into the 1955 Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” playing its entire 18-month run. The duo made hundreds of recordings and toured 11 months of the year. In 1982, he received the National Heritage Fellowship award. McGhee, who moved to Oakland in 1964, died there in February 1996.

“This, and all of these monuments, has been a long time coming,” said Calvin Sneed, grand-nephew of McGhee.

Sneed continued by saying he recently spoke with McGhee’s son George and he had the following comment to make about the recognition.

“By honoring my father like this, this is one of the greatest things in the world. Both he and my uncle Stick represented Kingsport well,” Sneed said. “They were from Kingsport, they lived here, they went to Douglass High School here and they helped put Kingsport on the musical map too.”


Acoustic bass player Barry Bales is the longest-serving member of bluegrass star Alison Krauss’ band, Union Station. Bales is also an award-winning songwriter, producer and session musician. His co-written song “Nobody to Blame” won the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Song of the Year award in 2016.

Bales was born in Kingsport in 1969 and grew up in Colonial Heights. His father, who worked for Eastman, was an amateur musician who introduced Bales to classic country and bluegrass music. He participated in Saturday morning jam sessions at the Guitar Shop on Market Street. Bales’ awards include 15 Grammys, 23 International Bluegrass Music Association awards, one Country Music Association award and two Academy of Country Music Awards. Barry and his wife, Aliceson, now run Bales Farms in Mosheim. He joined Union Station in 1990.

“I’m thrilled and honored that anyone would see fit to bestow this on me,” Bales said. “The only reason it’s happened the way it has ... is by divine intervention and I’m so thankful to the Lord for all of the blessings he’s given me and continues to give me.”


Grammy-nominated bluegrass and country gospel musician Doyle Lawson is a mandolinist, singer, and, since 1979, the leader of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. The winner of many International Bluegrass Music Association awards, Lawson was also the 2006 recipient of the United States’ most prestigious honor in folk music and traditional arts, the National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Lawson was born in Kingsport in 1944 and he and his wife, Suzanne, live in Bristol.

“It’s beyond the words of expression the way I feel,” Lawson said. “When as a kid I was listening to local radio stations ... I never thought it would come to this. All I ever wanted to do was play music, be in a band and I never thought what it would come true for me.”

From the largest cities to the smallest communities, Tennessee Music Pathways stretches across all 95 counties and features hundreds of landmarks from the seven genres of music that call Tennessee home: blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll. Historians have identified more than 300 points of interest to date, and additional markers will be installed for years to come.

Kevin Triplett, the former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, led the charge to introduce this pathway.

“When you’re trying to get people to visit your state, you have to showcase the best of what you are and be authentic and genuine and real,” Triplett said. “We are beauty, family, experiences, history, but what runs through all of our DNA as Tennesseans is music.”

Eastman to sell tire additive lines

KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Co. looks to sell its rubber additives and related product lines, assets and technology for $800 million.

Eastman entered the agreement with an affiliate of One Rock Capital Partners, LLC.

The agreement is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021.

“This announcement is part of our ongoing effort to improve the performance of our Additives & Functional Products segment,” said Mark Costa, board chair and chief executive officer at Eastman, in a press release. “After reviewing strategic options, we believe this action is the most beneficial to Eastman and the rubber additives business.

“We are pleased to reach this agreement with One Rock and to have a clear path forward for the rubber additives business.”

According to a press release, the $800 million sale price consists of $725 million cash at closing and an additional amount of up to $75 million to be paid based on performance of the rubber additives business post-closing through 2023. The final purchase price is subject to working capital and other adjustments at closing.

The company expects the sale will be either neutral or accretive to adjusted earnings per share in 2022.

Tony W. Lee, managing partner of One Rock, said the following in a press release:

“Eastman’s tire additives business is the global leader, known for high-performance, mission-critical products and technical leadership. We are excited to partner with the business’ highly experienced management team to further strengthen its unparalleled product portfolio and drive its growth as an independent company.”

The rubber additives include Crystex insoluble sulfur and Santoflex antidegradants, which, according to Eastman’s website, are used to control the process of manufacturing rubber, while improving durability, flexibility and appearance in tires and other products.

Mine rescue competition shows need for safety in a shrinking sector

WISE — Teams went through their paces on the 40- and 50-yard lines at UVA Wise’s Carl Smith Stadium on Wednesday, but the competition was not about football.

Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy referees watched as five Southwest Virginia mine rescue teams went through their paces at the Governor’s Cup Mine Rescue Competition. Blue painter’s tape “passages” and paper sheets labeled with various obstacles, methane presence and damaged equipment turned the outdoor turf into underground mine disasters for the competing teams.

Chris Whitt, DMME’s Emergency Manager, said the Governor’s Cup is one of various competitions that the teams can enter to meet an annual requirement of two such events each year.

While each team may not have to make their way through dust, piles of debris, flammable atmosphere or other obstacles, the members each wear most of the gear they would need when entering those situations.

“These teams are more important because there’re fewer teams around these days,” Whitt said. A shrinking number of Southwest Virginia coal underground mines has almost eliminated underground “steam” coal mines supplying power plants, he said, and mines producing metallurgical coal for steam production make up most of the remaining active mines in the region.

Each of the five teams in Wednesday’s competition navigated a simulated mine section methodically, with at least two members cross-checking plotting boards of the mine layout.

A point man on each team did frequent methane sensor sweeps and looked for obstacles such as rock falls, crushed machinery or whatever situation paper labels on the layout showed.

Whitt said the small number of teams reflects the changes in the coal industry.

“Even 10 years ago you would have seen as many as 18 teams at this competition,” Whitt said.

“It’s tough to have these competitions with the pandemic and social distancing,” said Whitt, “but it’s good practice and everyone gets to know each other.”

Each team also kept radio contact with a liaison member at a table near the layout entrance. Whitt said the liaison, in a real situation, would be with the team and maintaining communications with above-ground coordinators.

Other team members pulled a wheeled cart with rescue, breathing and first aid gear. The cart converts to a stretcher to recover victims, as Whitt later demonstrated when one team needed a “victim” to complete its rescue.

Wednesday’s clouds and humidity left all the teams sweat-soaked as they wore rebreather mask units, personal safety equipment and all but heavy protective clothing through each exercise. Referees followed them, checking how they followed movement and safety procedures.

Whitt said mine safety has improved in the past three decades, with the 1992 Southmountain underground explosion in Wise County being the last disaster of its kind in the state. Roof fall incidents have also become rarer since the 1990s with improved underground roof control systems.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in this position, most of the accidents we’ve seen have been machinery related,” Whitt said. “They’re more the type of industrial accidents where mining is not a factor, and even those accidents are declining because of improved proximity access devices that make it harder to get caught in a machine.”

Ventilation and gas buildup are still a major focus for safety efforts, Whitt said.

Watching teams go through their paces, DMME Deputy Director Jennifer Palestrant said she was impressed with their performance.

“Even with a decline in the number of underground mines, you can never focus too much on the safety aspect of mining,” Palestrant said.

Five teams competed on Wednesday: Wellmore Coal Company, Metinvest Pocahontas, Paramont Contura, Alden Resources and Virginia Small Operators. Wellmore’s Team received the Governor’s Cup, with Alden Resources in second place. In the pre-shift procedures competition, Contura Energy’s Frankie Moore received first-place honors and Todd Ward of Wellmore took second place.

“It’s good in an emergency to know you’ll see familiar faces if you ever have to respond to an emergency,” Whitt said.

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 1979, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton appears before a joint session to give his final State of the State message in Nashville before leaving office on Jan. 20. Law enforcement officials announced Wednesday, June 9, 20201, the closing a 42-year-old cold case of Samuel Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman who was shot and killed in 1979 in a contract killing that former Gov. Ray Blanton's administration helped pay for.