Sullivan County Courthouse

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County is expected to receive $30 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. As of Tuesday, requests for use of that money totaled more than $38 million.

The list is not complete. The county can’t submit any proposals for using its ARPA funds to the state for approval until early January. The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office has offered county governments use of a consultant to make sure the money is spent in a way that meets federal guidelines.

Most of the money must be used in a way connected to COVID-19, and the county has been heavily encouraged to identify infrastructure and public health projects as it prioritizes requests and decides what to submit for state approval.

The Sullivan County Financial Management Committee reviewed the request list Tuesday morning and voted to recommend the county begin the purchasing process for two items: $1.25 million for new ambulances for Sullivan County EMS; and more than $5 million for new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for various county buildings.

Finance Director Larry Bailey said both fall within what local officials currently understand about what will be within the federal guidelines for using ARPA funds. Bailey and several members of the committee also pointed out both are established needs. And the process of putting the vehicle purchases and HVAC projects out to bid includes multiple steps and time.

Purchasing Agent Kris Davis said the county needs to be ready to move forward with projects and purchases as soon as the state begins reviewing proposals because all the federal money flowing into local government coffers across Tennessee and the nation will mean high demand for the materials, equipment, contractors and, when needed, architects.

Davis also pointed out many items are on back order or taking longer than normal to arrive after orders are placed, and actual costs are rising significantly.

An awning for Sullivan East Middle School, for example, was estimated at $30,000 and the bid came back at $56,000, Davis said.

The Financial Management Committee’s recommendation to move ahead on preparations to order the ambulances and contract out the HVAC work went to the Sullivan County Commission’s Executive and Administrative Committees in a joint meeting Tuesday night.

No vote was taken.

The two committees also received the full $38 million list of requests for ARPA funding. Bailey told the group he expects the county will continue to receive requests for the next two to three weeks. He was asked to send commissioners an updated list weekly until his office provides a final list.

The list distributed on Tuesday included more than three dozen line items from various nonprofits, fire and rescue departments, county departments, utility districts and the city of Bristol.

Bailey said many of the requests came in to county offices in recent months. Some resulted from a memo sent to all county department heads that later went to county commissioners.

Nearly $12 million of the $38 million is the total of two requests submitted by the city of Bristol: $4.375 million for sewer infrastructure and $7.51 million for water infrastructure.

At the Financial Committee’s meeting Tuesday morning, a commissioner wanted to know “what about Kingsport?” Bailey said no request had been received from Kingsport. The commissioner asked if Kingsport had been “invited” to submit a request.

“We didn’t invite Bristol to” Bailey said.

At the joint meeting in the evening, County Commissioner Colette George asked if a request she understood the city has or will submit will be added, and Bailey said it would.

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