Sullivan County Commission

BLOUNTVILLE — The proposal for a new road to West Ridge High School hit a dead end on Tuesday.

The Sullivan County Commission resoundingly rejected the Sullivan County Board of Education’s latest proposal for new access to the under-construction school.

The vote, at a called meeting, was interpreted by some onlookers as meaning the commission is OK with the new high school opening this August with the existing road system.

Some who voted against it cited the county highway department’s plan to widen Lynn Road to 24 feet, which would allow school buses to pass.

Others seemed unwilling to move on from criticism of the BOE’s decision to build the school where it is being built without having designed a better road.

Commissioner Angie Stanley said she doesn’t want school funds spent on purchasing land for a road.

“That money should be used toward our education,” Stanley said.

Much of the discussion prior to the vote focused on what role Jim Belgeri, former highway commissioner and the first to develop the new road option rejected by the commission, has played, or will play, in the project.

In the end, the resolution to approve the plan for the new road garnered only two “yes” votes — from its sponsors. Fifteen commissioners voted “no,” one abstained, and six were recorded as absent during the roll call vote.

Background

The BOE had its own called meeting last week to attempt to change its initial proposal for the new road to address concerns or objections from the county commission.

That first proposal, discussed by county commissioners at four different meetings the week before, was to improve and widen Jericho Drive from State Route 357 (that’s what Airport Parkway becomes on the side of I-81 where the new school is being built) and create a new extension to link Jericho Drive to the main entrance to the West Ridge campus on Lynn Road.

The extension would go across land that is privately owned. Belgeri has an option to purchase the land. The board’s initial proposal ultimately came to be described as a “purchase contract” for that eight-acre tract — with the new road completed by a limited liability corporation called Jericho Partners.

That plan received “no action” votes from the commission’s administrative, executive, and education committees. Of major concern: County Attorney Dan Street said the plan is illegal as it basically provides an end-run around state laws requiring the bidding process.

BOE Chairman Randall Jones said the Board would accept Street’s objection. Jones also said Belgeri had offered to sell the board his option on the land.

The BOE subsequently had its called meeting and approved a plan that became the basis for a county commission resolution up for consideration on Tuesday. If it had gotten at least 13 “yes” votes from the commission (or maybe 12, if the one “abstain” vote had been clarified as a simple abstention and not an abstention due to conflict), the resolution would have authorized: buying the land (using money in the county school system’s fund balance) and issuance of up to $6 million in bond debt to pay for an access road to West Ridge; and getting the bid process for a “turnkey” job on the road construction underway.

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