Funding debate underway for LFMS
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Apr 17, 2013 | 962 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Options for funding renovation and construction at Lake Forest Middle School were the focus of a Bradley County ad hoc committee’s first meeting on Tuesday.

The committee is trying to find a way to fund the Lake Forest project before the approval of the 2013-14 budget.

“Just in general, without a tax increase the money is not there,” committee member Ed Elkins said.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis emphasized during the meeting that if the project was put off until 2016 there would be payments in lieu of taxes revenue available toward necessary bond payments based on estimates.

“We are facing what I fear is a significant unplanned capital need to keep the doors open,” committee chairman Chris Turner said.

Turner said the longer the project is put off, the worse the condition of the buildings will get.

To borrow the $21 million for the project, including the portion state-mandated for Cleveland City Schools, the county would need $3.1 million at the start of the project and $1.5 million each year for payments on the debt.

“Here are areas of opportunity to fund this project: You have existing general fund budget cuts, you have existing school budgets cuts. You have projected growth in the general fund. You have projected growth in the school fund,” committee member J. Adam Lowe said.

He said raising takes or selling county assets, such as the Bradley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, are also options that could be considered.

Cuts to the budget could include eliminating the animal contract with the city of Cleveland and eliminating the Commissioners county health insurance.

Future tax growth would also have to be committed to this project. County Finance Director Lynn Burns said this money is needed to meet needed fund balance and reserve amounts in the budget. Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said increases in revenue for the schools from growth in the community will be needed to offset court-mandated payments to the city of Cleveland.

Lowe said taxes could also be raised. Previous estimates said an eight cent property tax increase would be needed to borrow the full amount.

“None of those are recommendations, but they are all sources of revenue that could be drawn from,” Lowe said.

At a previous meeting of the finance committee, potential use of a portion of insurance money from Blue Springs Elementary School was discussed. Smith said this was only the portion that would be given based on upgrading codes to bring Blue Springs up to the codes it met before the tornadoes of April 27, 2011. Smith said the insurance company has come back and said it will not allow this money to be used until new construction starts. The rest of the insurance money is being kept toward construction of a new Blue Springs Elementary School.

Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford said he would like to see the architectural work bid out to ensure the school system is getting the best and most accurate price.

McDaniel said the school system would not commit to bidding the project until officials know for sure the Commission is going to fund the project. He said the estimates are from an architectural company the school system has used for many of its projects. The cost of construction materials has increased from the price given two years ago.

McDaniel said the school system has had some design work done on the project as part of applying for a hazard mitigation grant. There was only enough funding for one project. The Bradley County Board of Education chose to fund the Walker Valley High School expansion.

The price of the project includes a new academic building to replace the pod-style buildings and keep the media center, administrative building, cafeteria, gymnasium and Little Theater.

“We’re talking about replacing all the classrooms at Lake Forest,” McDaniel said. “It’s a pretty big project.”

An estimated $2.6 million would be needed to fix leaking roofs and update heating and air conditioning in the buildings being kept.

There are 1,200 students attending Lake Forest.

The committee plans to meet again in two weeks. The Commission has requested a report from the committee by the first meeting in May. However, the option for an extension to be granted was approved by the Commission.