Sullivan Co. commissioners vote to appeal liquor sales tax revenue lawsuit

SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- The Sullivan County Board of Commissioners will fight a recently dismissed lawsuit that would require the cities of Bristol and Kingsport to pay the county millions of dollars in tax money. The county is trying to recover more than $2 million in revenue from the cities’ liquor by the drink sales.

The lawsuit is based on a state law that is in question on whether or not county schools receive a percentage of the sales from cities within its county. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, in part, because both cities have school systems.

The county commission recently decided not to appeal the decision, but Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said several commissioners came to him with concerns and a special meeting was called Monday to discuss the matter and vote on it again.

While the commission voted to move forward with the appeal some commissioners are against it, including Commissioner Mark Vance. “I’m going to vote to sue myself and sue the people I represent in the city of Bristol, that’s not proper representation.”

Other commissioners, like Sherry Grubb, support the appeal. “I just feel like we need to appeal to put our name out there and then hopefully rather than take this on through the court system that we can sit down with our sister cities and negotiate something that would be beneficial to all of us,” Grubb said.

Kingsport and Bristol are preparing to continue the matter in court. Kingsport Mayor John Clarke, said, “We’re disappointed naturally but the litigation it appears now will be on-going.” City of Bristol City Attorney Danielle Kiser said they were not surprised by the move to appeal. “We’ll be discussing our strategy going forward with our attorney, with our insurance carrier.”

Mayor Venable believes the appeal needs to happen in order to get to the Tennessee Supreme Court and get clarification on the three-decade old law. “It’s a ‘what did the general assembly of 1980, 1982 intend,’” Venable said. “I think the cities and the counties and the general assembly would like for this to be heard in the highest court that we have, which is the [Tennessee] Supreme Court and the appeals court is a step towards that.”

The county has until Thurs. March 3 to file an appeal. The Sullivan County Board of Education is also listed as a plaintiff on the lawsuit. The board will have to decide whether or not it wants to be part of the appeal.

Several other cities and counties across Tennessee have similar on-going lawsuits, including Johnson City and Washington County.

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