Sullivan County commissioners mull options for funding a new jail

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Sullivan County commissioners discussed the possibility of raising property taxes to pay for a new jail during a work session Wednesday night.

A resolution on this is expected to be presented during the commission’s regular meeting on Thursday, however, the commission remains split on the issue.

The commission heard from its bond counsel during the meeting on how to fund a new jail.

“If you take on the obligation, you need to have a willingness to fund it and I want to be upfront about that,” said Ashley McNulty, senior vice president of Stephens Inc.

Right now, the county has the option of taking advantage of low bond interest rates to fund the estimated $72 million project.

Mayor Richard Venable is in favor of a property tax increase for a new jail, but believes the increase shouldn’t be more than 15 cents. A 15 cent raise would shift Sullivan County’s tax rate from $2.57 to $2.73 per $100 of evaluation.

Overcrowding at the county’s current jail has some worried that it will lose state certification.

“If we get de-certified, we are going to increase our liability for lawsuits,” said Commissioner Mark Vance. “We’re going to get sued.”

A state corrections official warned commissioners that something must be done.

“If nothing happens and we do an inspection, then obviously ‘for progress’ cease to exist then we would have to assess that,” said William Kane with the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

At the same time, some commissioners are worried about the impact of a tax increase on property owners.

“Our citizens across Sullivan county that I think really breathed a sigh of relief when we came out and said the budget’s passed, no tax increase…now we’re going to come back and hit them with a 15 cent tax increase,” Commissioner Larry Crawford said.

While a resolution is expected to be presented during Thursday’s meeting, a special session would need to be called to push it through on another vote in order to secure pre-election interest rates.

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