Sullivan County Tennessee Follies
by Lewis Loflin
Sullivan County like East Tennessee in general is bright red Republican. That means no new taxes - of any kind. So the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors struggles to fund all their pet projects. One of those pet projects is not the county jail.
The jails are bursting with white people arrested on drug charges. According to press reports the Sullivan County jail, which was recently expanded to accommodate 600, has more than 800 prisoners. It's so bad inmates are sleeping in cots or on the floor. Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson is so fed up over funding he is looking at alternative forms of sentencing such as ankle bracelets.
The reason for so many people in jail according to Sheriff Anderson is drugs and alcohol:
"I would say without a doubt that if there ever is a study done in that jail, I would go so far as to say the reason that 90 to 95 percent of everybody who is in our jail has to do with drugs or alcohol - the abuse of drugs or alcohol. People end up doing stupid things on drugs."
Funding for the jail has been so heated one commissioner Bob Neal of Bristol accused the Sheriff's Office of "sucking the county dry." Sheriff Wayne Anderson shot back against Mr. Neal's 'assessment' as "uneducated ... considering all that we have done to cut costs." The problem is the County is loath to raise taxes for anything. To quote the Bristol Herald Courier July 17, 2012,
The county has yet to approve a spending plan for the current fiscal year, which started July 1. The County Commission is set to vote on a 2012-13 budget on July 30, and there is some concern about whether there will be enough votes to adopt a 20-cent property tax increase being recommended by the commission's Budget Committee...
Neal, who clarified his comment during a phone interview later in the day, said he supports Anderson but the sheriff has not worked with the county to resolve the budget crisis. Every time the commissioners want to discuss his budget, the sheriff threatens to sue the county, he said.
So as the little children in local government play their silly games the community is still being flushed down the poverty toilet. They always seem to have plenty of money on both sides of the state line for corporate welfare.
In the end "by an overwhelming majority, commissioners approved a 20-cent property tax increase and a 2012-13 budget Monday night...The property tax rate went from $2.13 per $100 of assessed value to $2.33. The tax increase will cost most property owners between $60 and $100 per year. The majority of the tax increase will go to the school district, the highway department and will be put into reserves. The operating budget for the county is generally the same as last year."
There is nothing about the jail but "Bristol resident Don Evans was critical of leadership in the county and said the recent conduct of County Mayor Steve Godsey and Sheriff Wayne Anderson was unprofessional. The two elected officials have been exchanging harsh words in recent months and earlier this month the Sheriff's Office accused Godsey of illegal dumping of personal trash in a county dumpster."
My God what a bunch of idiots. Mr. Evans believes, "I would almost be an advocate of bankruptcy [for the county] than paying an additional dollar."
Now they are considering putting a wheel tax and sales tax increase on the ballot in November. That wheel tax would place a $20 tax yearly on all 144,000 vehicles in the county raising $3 million. Sullivan County's property tax rate has been $2.1307 (per $100 of assessed value) for several years. For the 2012-13 budget is based on the 20 cent increase tax rate to $2.3307. According to the Kingsport Timers-News (July 31) The proposed budget includes a reduction of about $800,000 in general fund spending:
$12,500 from Bristol Parks and Recreation; $15,000 from Bays Mountain Park; $5,000 from Bluff City Park; $3,500 from the State Street Farmers Market; $5,760 from the Dawn of Hope; $10,000 from Kingsport Tomorrow; $10,000 from the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority; $10,000 from the Bristol Housing and Redevelopment Authority; and $5,000 from the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.
If this fighting wasn't fun enough, now they have to pay for corporate welfare for Sprint to move its call center from Bristol, Virginia to Sullivan County:
Last year, Sprint decided to relocate a call center from Bristol, Va., to Bristol, Tenn. ... Sprint was offered potentially millions of dollars in economic incentives at the time of the announcement, but no details were made public at the time...the state offered Sprint a $548,250 Fast Track Infrastructure Development grant. The grant requires an 18 percent local match. The money will be used for infrastructure and site preparation work.
The city already has agreed to pay half of the match and is asking the county to pay the other. Sullivan County Commissioner Bob White, of Bristol, said during a county meeting last week that he supported the economic incentive package because the jobs could have gone to Kentucky or some other state. "I think it's a good thing for the business of the county," White said.
Commissioner Eddie Williams, of Kingsport, said the $49,871 match for the grant would come from surplus funds, although for weeks commissioners have been arguing about the fact that the surplus has been nearly depleted over the past several years.
Ref. BHC August 13, 2012. Let me see here, raising taxes on everyone, trying to exempt big business, then handing out a big corporate welfare check to move a low-wage call center across the state line. Business as usual.
Commissioner Dwight King of Piney Flats believes the wheel tax is "more fair." He rejects the idea of Bristol Motor Speedway (paying an additional $110,000) and Eastman Chemical (an additional $900,000 for a total of $10 million.) and their other corporate friends having to pay taxes in any form, particularly after they were already awarded millions in tax breaks already. Mr. King said "a wheel tax would spread the tax burden around, unlike a property tax, which only impacts homeowners..." No, it also impacts those with the property, period.
The new rate would allow Sullivan County to collect $79.7 million from businesses and residents alike, something to be opposed for business. Mr. King knows that, but won't say it. To quote the press, "Unlike residential property owners in Sullivan County, Eastman and other business pay taxes both on real estate and on equipment and machinery. Eastman paid taxes on $120 million worth of buildings and other real estate but (also on) $316 million on equipment and machinery used in production."
Among the nation's lowest cost-of-living areas with no state income tax and no personal property tax, Sullivan County offers an abundance of added incentives for those seeking to relocate.
That low cost of living is relative to a low wage labor force and large income gap. This is combined with an almost 10 percent sales tax. The above chart shows that the main communities in Sullivan County add on additional town/city taxes in addition to the county tax rate. The rate for Bristol, Tennessee is higher than the present county tax rate.
Sheriff Threatens Lawsuit Over Funding
Update 2018: Anderson lost re-election.
When Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson didn't get the extra $1.4 million he requested from the Sullivan County BOS, he says it's time to sue the county. To quote, "Under Tennessee law, elected officials have the right to sue county government if they believe their department is not adequately funded."
"You can't make hasty decisions without consequences," Sheriff Anderson said to the Bristol Herald Courier. "And that is what was done with the County Commission [when the budget was approved two weeks ago]. There are consequences this time. I have to take legal action against the county." Sheriff Anderson believes that in the latest budget "I really feel honestly they threw me under the bus."
Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street says, "I have never been confronted with that situation as county attorney."
Again they spend a fortune on corporate welfare, but can't properly fund the jail.
Update Published Aug 28 2012 by TriCities.com
Sullivan sheriff follows through with promise to sue over inadequate funding. Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson made good on his promise Monday, when he filed a nearly $10 million lawsuit against the county. The lawsuit claims that the current budget adopted by Sullivan County commissioners last month "was woefully inadequate" and "will not permit..."
Sullivan mayor not charged in dumpster case
TriCities.com August 29, 2012
The Sullivan County Grand Jury decided against charging Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey with littering and official misconduct, according to the district attorney. The Sheriff's Office had observed Godsey dumping garbage into a dumpster behind the Old Courthouse in Blountville last month. Godsey said he had permission to dump the garbage but the sheriff's office chose to file the incident.
"[The grand jury] heard everything and decided that it didn't violate the law," DA Barry Staubus said...
Talk about totally dysfunctional government not just in Washington, but also the state/local levels.
Bristol TN to give away $25 million for a Bass Pro Shop: Kingsport Fights Back
The firestorm of controversy in Bristol, Virginia on a $50 million backroom corporate welfare for a strip mall deal has led Bristol, Tennessee officials to proclaim their deal with another developer "wasn't in back rooms and industrial development is done in public." Really? How come nobody in the general public knew until the deal was done? This development, I think called the Pinnacle, is at Bristol exit 74 close to Virginia exit 1.
It's main feature is a Bass Pro Shop, a large amphitheater, etc. It's about one mile from the Bristol Mall and within 7-8 miles of two existing large empty malls that once housed Sam's Club and Carolina Pottery. There are also two existing empty strip malls on Euclid Ave. in Bristol down the street from the Bristol Mall.
Why did the developer not use any of the existing empty property? Because the taxpayers will pay for his new location and wouldn't have given the money for the old locations. This will be in direct competition with Bristol Exit 7, the $50 million taxpayer funded shopping plaza planned for Exit 5, and the struggling Bristol Mall.
This makes no sense unless taxpayers are taking most of the risk. Bristol VA/TN and Kingsport are in a bidding war to attract retail so the sales taxes will fund their pet projects and fill the pockets of contractors, consultants, and their friends. They care absolutely nothing about the impact on jobs (most just shifting existing jobs around) and the enormous debt both sides of Bristol are going into. Kingsport was mad they couldn't come up with the money.
It's about crony capitalism. Communities in the past handed out big corporate welfare packages for manufacturing jobs, but now it's about sales tax collections. The fact these deals are negotiated in secret and the public is barred from finding out until the contracts are signed in simply corruption. The apathetic sheeple in Bristol VA/TN don't seem to care.
To quote Mayor Phillips of Kingsport:
"The request was for $25 million for the Bass Pro, which is actually a low figure if you go on the website and look at what other communities have paid for Bass Pro. You can't sell (general obligation) bonds so you have to have private developers that will put up that money up front and we were unable to obtain the $25 million dollars. Quite frankly, if you don't control the land you don't have anything to offer when it comes to economic development and in this case we didn't control the land. I wish Mr. Taylor the best of luck with his property."
Mr. Taylor is another developer who was trying to get Bass Pro Shop for his Heritage Point strip mall and lost it to Bristol. Now Taylor and Kingsport City government have ended their partnership and are fighting each other. It just never ends here.
Sullivan County, Tennessee has had a firestorm of problems over religion in the late 1990s to about 2005. The whole controversy simply dies as all sides decided to ignore it, which I think was best for all. The Ten Commandments still hangs there today, yet they never got the revival they hoped for. The public will speak out on religious issues today without fear of reprisal that once dominated the local culture. Here are a collection of opinions below and issues below.
- Sullivan County Religious Wars
- Sullivan advised to remove Ten Commandments plaque
- Sullivan commissioners should remove plaque
- Public Opinion on "Removing God"
This concerns a fight over evolution in a Sullivan County, Tennessee school.
- Sullivan County religious Wars
- Middle school student suspended for harassing teacher about religion
- Parent says suspended student meant no harm
- TDOE lawyer dispels myth regarding religion in schools
- Confusion about science at heart of incident Times-News Editorial
- The Public Argues Evolution in Sullivan County
- Evolution in Public Schools
Sullivan County has gone through a lot in the ten years I put up this website. There have been some positive changes, some old problems still remain. As of 2008 it's more of the same. The following are highlights of an old controversy that we all are glad is finished. As for the "fundamentalists" while I disagree with them on several issues, they are not monsters. I'm updating starting in August 2008.
Near the bottom again in 2008
Tennessee's 1st Congressional District (a safe Republican district) ranks 421st out of 436 districts. Virginia's 9th District (a safe Democratic district until Obama and the 2010 election) does little better with a ranking of 400, mainly because of more government spending. (Virginia is a wealthier state than Tennessee.)
To quote the press (BHC July 20, 2008): "Some of the districts that fared worse included the Bronx in New York, the greater Houston area, and, not surprisingly, the coal counties in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. In general, under performing districts had a strike or two against them. Many are rural, all are poor, and in a number of cases, they are districts where the majority of residents are racial minorities." But that isn't true in West Virginia, Kentucky, or the VA 9th or TN 1st, which are 90% plus white. So what is the problem? "In general, residents in the low-ranked districts make less money, are less educated, are sicker and die earlier than their well-off peers. The particulars for this region include:"
- "A life expectancy of 74.9 years for Tennessee's 1st District and 75.1 years for Virginia's 9th District. The national average is around 78 years." Note the region's workers have worked a lot of toxic manufacturing jobs in years past, plus coal mining, plus many are heavy smokers and/or are obese.
- "Twenty-two percent of 1st District adults don't have a high school diploma. In the 9th district, more than 25 percent of adults lack a diploma." The press discounts out migration of younger people fleeing poverty, including tens of thousands of college graduates. That drives up the "uneducated" numbers, many of them older.
- "In both districts, just 17 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree. A mere six percent of 1st District residents have a graduate degree; in the 9th, its 6.9 percent." We have colleges, etc. but it won't help unless we increase wages or provide better jobs outside poverty wage tourism and retirement industries. Most college graduates here work in government, that pays far above the private sector. In other words, it isn't we are stupid, there's just no reason to stay here and starve or flip burgers.
- "In Tennessee's 1st District, slightly less than 77 percent of children under age 18 are enrolled in school. The 9th District does better, with 86.9 percent enrolled." That should be investigated, in particular the use of multiple and questionable diplomas. But it makes no difference in income and Southwest Virginia is even lower than East Tennessee.
- "Median earnings are about the same in both districts - $21,639 in East Tennessee and $20,808 in Southwest Virginia. A family of four with an income of $21,200 or less meets federal poverty guidelines." These government figures are not realistic. See Family Income in Bristol.
Quoting the Kingsport Times-News (1-18-2004) on comments by Sullivan County Tennessee attorney Dan Street on the Ten Commandments religious plaque placed in the Sullivan County, Tennessee courthouse,
"It seems clearer and clearer and clearer that we are promoting a particular religion, and that's a violation of the Constitution. The Constitution is the one document that protects minorities, and just because most people feel the Christian faith or the Jewish faith is the right faith, that doesn't mean they have a right to impose it on everyone else. Plenty of Christians and Jews who may follow the Ten Commandments, but don't believe they should be displayed in public buildings. Most of the time, however, those people don't come forward with their opinion because they are afraid of being chastised. People think if you want the Ten Commandments down you're an atheist, and that's just not true.
In 2006 fundamentalist' fanatics are at it again. In response to recent Supreme Court rulings, have intorduced legislation in Tennessee to extend state-sanctioned religious bigotry into Tennessee law. Typical are these words from local politicians,
"We accept other cultures, we open our arms to them. But if they come to this country they have to accept where we came from...If they have a problem with that, that's tough. I'm not real sensitive about that. "As for the atheist perspective, I could care less how they feel,"
This law was defeated. Our community deserves credit for this positive change.
Sullivan County Schools
"I'm so frustrated with this whole mess...I've been on the board for 27 years, and I believe this is about the worst situation of the least concern by the County Commission that I have ever seen. I am very, very disappointed and frustrated that an effort has not been made by the funding body. If that bothers them, I'm sorry. I think we are putting ourselves in a precarious position that is going to affect children, and that's what we are in business for," Mr. C. Bridwell. (Kingsport Times-News 6/24/03) The saga goes on today in 2007. There has been fear of closing Sullivan North, it's still here. My guestbook Guestbook 1 has a lot of parent entries on the local schools.
>Why your college degree is worthless here
The refusal to pay better wages limits the labor pool. We have plenty of college graduates, but that isn't what they want. They desire better educated minimum wage workers to work all of the $6 an hour jobs this region produces. They won't get it.
- It's not the workers, but the wages: My response in the press
- Businesses want job candidates already trained and ready for work.
- Survey: Region at risk due to critical skills gap Bunk
Quoting a Sullivan County official, he confirmed again what most in power here will not address: "I was in no way casting dispersions on the level of education at ETSU. When I said that "we have ETSU students flipping burgers," I was pointing out that we do not have the level of jobs in this area to sustain the number of graduates from our local colleges. Therefore, they are forced to either leave the area or take what jobs are available to them, which in most cases are in the service area," The trouble is there are no decent jobs even in trades as the Tarnoff report revealed. See:
Fundamentalists have lost already
Printed January 25, 2006 Kingsport Times-News
Re: Sullivan's Ten Commandments display unchallenged, so far, the fundamentalists have lost whether the plaque goes or stays. Proof is the fact that many others challenge them in this space. Mr. Street can make excuses, but the public record is clear; in their efforts to silence me, they proved the plaque was designed to intimidate others. I gave them a way out by simply agreeing that all faiths have equal access; they shot themselves in the foot. The ACLU thanks them. They made a mockery of God. Claiming the purpose of the plaque is secular is insulting to God and violates His very commandment against false witness. Promoting a religion from public office to intimidate citizens is a direct violation of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.
Roger Clites (Dec 11) claims, "the Constitution ...was not to be applied to actions of individuals ... (and) ... does not apply to the states." From section 1 of the 14th Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U.S. nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It does apply to you, Mr. Clites.
During the plaque dedication, Carletta Sims and I were threatened with arrest and barred from the courthouse. I met some of the participants after the ceremony, including a minister who in no manner was some hate-filled, fundamentalist fanatic, and we were shocked at how much we had in common. I believe he is more typical of many Christians. Leave the plaque where it is, along with Halloween, Happy Holidays, Harry Potter, evolution, and Merry Christmas. All are part of American culture, all correctness be damned.
The next article was circa 1998. Today there is no Klan activity that I know of or at least in public. On the national scene, it's interesting as well the hysteria some Christians around here went into over Y2K has been replaced by hysteria on the political left with George Bush.
Re. the letter from Sharron Mahan (Times-News April 18), that's the reason and proof why Carletta Sims launched her lawsuit and why she should win. Statements such as "get a job in another area outside the Bible Belt" and "why should she be compensated for fighting against someone (God)" is telling of the mental state of the writer.
Sims draws more hatred than both the Combs Family and the Lillelid murderers combined. She didn't cause the huge loses at Eastman, Fingerhut closing, the wave of bombings in the area, etc. The real issue isn't Sims.
Fundamentalists have totally blown it and can only blame themselves. It never was about the SBC plaque in the courthouse or hanging "In God we trust'' on every outhouse, but their failure to reach people. 100 million Americans have no connection to any church. Atheism has had no growth in 11 years while the "unchurched'' have exploded by 110 percent, outnumbering even Catholics and Baptists who attend church. Church attendance is down below 40 percent. After Sept. 11, people went to churches looking for comfort instead found political rhetoric, hate and demands for money. Three months later, they all left and polls show fundamentalists now have a higher divorce rate than the general population. Seems family values are little more than just talk.
One can't achieve with politics what one refuses to believe enough to follow themselves. Faith alone won't cut it nor will demands for forced prayer in schools. Will God be harder on the atheists or the hypocrites? A lot of Sullivan County fundamentalists should be getting worried. Don't tell me to leave, Mrs. Mahan, I won't. Go get them, Carletta.
- Updated September 2017:
- Bristol, Southwest Virginia Revealed
- Bristol Virginia Tri-Cities a Great Place to Retire
- Residents Flee Bristol VA-TN
- Science & Technology
- 2017 Website Updates
- Sullivan County Religious Wars
- Sullivan County Commission Threatens to Sue Activist Over Free Speech
- More various issues in Sullivan County
- The Christian Right in Sullivan County, Tennessee