BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — The Sullivan County Commission on Thursday approved first reading of the county’s 2019-20 budget, which includes a 7-cent tax increase.

First reading of the budget and tax rate resolutions during the called meeting was a legal formality, according to county Mayor Richard Venable. He asked that there not be any detailed discussion of the budget until the final reading. Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey announced that will take place during a called commission meeting at 4 p.m. June 25 following a public hearing at 3 p.m. in the commission room of the Sullivan County Courthouse in Blountville.

As recommended by the commission’s Budget Committee in May, 6 cents of the tax increase would pay for 20 new employees at the county jail, 2% cost-of-living pay increases for eligible county employees and 14 school resource officer positions that were filled earlier this fiscal year. Each of those recommendations would be funded by 2 cents of the proposed increase.

A resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Mark Vance, of Bristol, will be introduced at the June 20 meeting to approve a 1-cent increase on the tax rate to go toward funding a bond allocation for an Emergency Medical Services project. The project, as proposed by EMS Director Gary Mayes, seeks to “improve response times during emergencies, improve operational efficiency and help EMS respond to future needs for the citizens of Sullivan County,” according to the resolution. Mayes’ plan includes building three new EMS stations and renovating a current one at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.

Each cent of the property tax rate brings in $369,000, according to Bailey. The 7-cent increase would bring the tax rate up to $2.62 per $100 of assessed value for the upcoming fiscal year.

The biggest ticket items on the budget are funding for the Sheriff’s Office, jail and the Highway Department. If approved, the Sheriff’s Office and jail will be funded at more than $24.1 million — more than $12.5 million for the Sheriff’s Office and more than $11.5 million for the jail. The Highway Department, if approved, will be funded at $11.39 million.

The Sullivan County Schools’ proposed budget that totals nearly $88.5 million  also has to be approved by the commission, but it isn’t funded solely with county money — some of it is paid for with state and federal grants and public fees, as is the case with other county departments.

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