Finance leaders debate projects
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Mar 21, 2013 | 789 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lake Forest gets focus
Jeff Morelock
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Estimated cost, potential revenue streams and coming deadlines of the Lake Forest Middle School renovation project were the focus of a lengthy discussion by the Bradley County Finance Committee during a session Wednesday.

The project would demolish some of the current buildings, build a new academic building at LFMS and renovate the remaining structures.

The estimated cost of the project has gone up $2 million since Bradley County Schools asked for funding for the project as part of its five-year capital improvement plan two years ago.

The Bradley County Finance Committee will request Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford form an ad hoc committee to determine ways to fund the project. The committee would report back to the finance committee no later then the committee’s first meeting in May.

Finance Committee chairman Ed Elkins and finance committee member Mel Griffith opposed the formation of the ad hoc committee.

“I think everyone on this committee agrees we need to do something at Lake Forest; that’s not the question. The question is, How?’” finance committee member Jeff Morelock said.

He said the Commission needs to stop finding ways to delay the issue.

“Every day that you wait is more money that we are going to put into Lake Forest (in maintenance costs) ... we will take care of that school,” school board member Christy Critchfield said.

Education committee chairman and finance committee member J. Adam Lowe said the project could be funded in future years with unallocated PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds. However, he said this would come at the expense of other projects.

“I think we have to discuss all options on the table,” Lowe said.

He stressed these are just ideas.

Past discussions centered around an 8-cent property tax increase which would bring in the revenue needed to borrow the money for the project, based on estimates by Morelock. Lowe said he was not in favor of this option.

“I don’t think there’s an answer out there that everyone’s going to swallow and like ... I think we should overturn every (other) option before we start considering a tax increase,” Lowe said.

Griffith said he hopes tax revenue from growth can bring more revenue to the county without a tax increase. He said the voters already said they were not willing to pay more taxes to fund the project by voting against the wheel tax last year.

Lowe said the Commission could decide to cut funding to some services to create some funding for the project if it deemed the service to be less important then the project.

Elkins suggested using the county’s yearly contributions to nongovernmental social services. Finance director Lynn Burns said this is not a large amount of money.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said a solution may be to combine multiple approaches.

“Maybe cut some services, then [have] the school pitch in some ... We may have to do a tax increase but what if we do a 4-cent instead of an 8-cent ... then take some from the projected revenue later? What if we take something from all of it as an option?” Peak-Jones asked.

The school system stands to save on energy costs if the project is completed. Lowe said he thought this money could go back into paying for the project.

Bradley County Schools board member Troy Weathers said any current numbers in savings are just estimates.

He said the savings would be needed in other areas.

“In 10 years, we haven’t had a tax increase for operational expenses because the money that we save on energy. We’ve put back into our budget to try and do other things and do increases,” Weathers said.

These savings are created by an energy management program, he noted. Weathers said savings from this program have allowed the school system to cover increased costs of electricity or other budget increases.

A rough estimate, based on Park View Elementary energy costs, would be $100,000 in energy savings if the Lake Forest project is completed.

“That’s probably what we are wasting as a school system right now because of that facility,” Lowe said.

Timeliness may have become an issue in discussions. Weathers said the school system has been in discussion with its insurance company concerning the insurance money from the destruction of Blue Springs Elementary School. The school system must use the money on a capital project or will lose it. Weathers said he is unsure of the deadline, added he thinks it is close to a year.

“We basically have $80,000 to $100,000 that they’re not going to give to us until we start construction,” Weathers said. “However, we have talked to our insurance company ... and they said, ‘If you’ll begin the Lake Forest (project) you can utilize the money for that.’”

The money would be used for architectural design. Weathers said design and prep work on the project would take nine months to a year to complete.

Also discussed was the school system possibly allocating some money to the project to decrease the amount needed to be borrowed.

Critchfield said the school system did not have funds to do this.

“Please keep in mind that we are having to pay the city back for the sales tax revenue ... also funding Walker Valley (High School expansion) without having to come to the Commission. That money has to come from somewhere, too. Those are two big bills that we didn’t have in the past that we have accrued in the past year,” Critchfield said.

She emphasized money saved through the energy program is used throughout the school system. She said it is not sitting idle in a fund.

“Even though we do have a savings, we also have bills to cover,” Critchfield said.

Starting July 15, BCS will make a $50,000 monthly payment to the city of Cleveland for the next 30 months to pay $1.4 million in sales tax revenue deemed by the courts to belong to the city.

Also during the meeting:

- The committee moved funds from the County Commission part-time employee line item to an assistant line item. The change was made to cover the salary for legislative assistant Lorri Moultrie. The assistant position was made a full-time position with the resignation of Amy Moore.

- Amendments to the Trustee’s Office, Cleveland/Bradley Greenway board and Bradley County Sheriff’s Office were passed.