Possible CSCC funding debated

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 6/17/18

The Bradley County Commission recently discussed the benefits of Cleveland State Community College and the challenges of a funding request to help support it.

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Possible CSCC funding debated

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The Bradley County Commission recently discussed the benefits of Cleveland State Community College and the challenges of a funding request to help support it.

Representatives from the Cleveland State Community College Foundation attended last Monday’s Commission work session to speak about the funding request, which was made in April. In the Foundation’s “Campaign to Revitalize Cleveland State For the Next 50 Years,” a $250,000 contribution was requested from Bradley County to be used as matching funds for a $25 million grant from the state of Tennessee.

The Foundation made the same $250,000 contribution request to the Cleveland City Council. The contributions would be paid over a three-year period.

Neither the Commission nor Council has announced plans to approve or deny the request.

The contribution request has been added to the agenda for Monday’s Commission voting session.

Foundation member Jeff Morelock spoke on behalf of CSCC President Dr. Bill Seymour. He said so far "in the neighborhood of $2 million" has been raised toward the matching fund requirement.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak said she understands CSCC never asked the city or county for funding before now, but that's because it's a state school. She mentioned concern about setting a precedent.

Commissioner Bill Winters said he appreciates the Foundation for raising $2 million in matching funds so far.

"I think this is worthwhile," he said, adding local Bradley County Schools graduates go to CSCC.

Winters added he thinks if the funds are available the Commission should commit to contributing.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said he would like to know where the money is coming from and what is being cut to make funding available to CSCC.

"I surely understand everybody needs money," he said, but the budget is already cut "to the absolute minimum."

Rawls said he is not opposed in investing in CSCC, but wants more details.

Commissioner Milan Blake said Fund 151-Debt Service has "a little bit extra" and after all principal, debt and interest is paid, $9.7 million will remain in the county's fund balance. He suggested moving a third of a penny of the county’s tax rate revenue from debt service to cover the CSCC request.

“We have huge issues in most of the other departments,” Rawls said, adding if they are going to shift money why not address other, clear needs first like in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.

Blake said everything BCSO asked for “they got.”

Commissioner Thomas Crye said his primary interest is in K-12 education “and right now it’s security.”

“We still have other dire needs,” Crye said, adding he also recognizes that CSCC is a local continuation of K-12 efforts.

“I find it difficult to turn down $25 million the state is providing,” he added.

Peak said so does she, but she believes the funding request should have “been hashed out” earlier this month when the Finance Committee met to go over the budget. She added there are other areas to be addressed.

Rick Platz, an adjunct instructor at CSCC who also serves on the Foundation board, said he wanted to clarify two things for the commissioners. One, the potential return on investment for donors to the matching funds is 9:1 or 10:1 and; two, he teaches business courses in the educational building where there are infrastructure concerns that need updates for the benefit of the students.

Speaking at the invitation of the Foundation, state Rep. Kevin Brooks said, “There have been some good points mentioned.” He added there are many needs to be funded “if we have the money.”

“We have this money and it is just within our grasp,” Brooks said of the $25 million grant.

Brooks added he and his fellow state legislators fought for funding for CSCC.

“We asked for it last year and we didn’t get it,” Brooks said. Now  the funding is nearly in hand, local leaders have to show “skin in the game” by raising the $2.5 million matching funds.

Commissioner Mike Hughes said he went to CSCC and sees this funding request will be spread across three years. He said it is an opportunity, but agrees there are other needs to consider.

Commission Chairman Louie Alford asked if the city of Cleveland has committed to CSCC’s contribution request. CSCC Foundation Director Cindy Harris Dawson said Seymour told her that morning that he has not yet heard from the city.

The day after the Commission meeting, Peak, who said she is a 1993 CSCC alumna and “a recipient of the Foundation,” sent the following statement to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

“The State of Tennessee has offered Cleveland State Community College a $25 million grant with a 10 percent matching requirement. They are requesting from the Bradley County Commission to fund this request for their building and infrastructure.

“Here are my concerns with funding the $250,000 request from Cleveland State Community College:

“First of all it is a state-funded school. And this would set precedent that I am not in favor of setting. Their infrastructure and maintenance of their buildings is not our county taxpayers’ problem. As a business owner myself I have to be fiscally responsible for maintaining my own buildings and upkeep and I expect the state to maintain their buildings also. We are responsible for our county buildings and funding all of our departments.

“Second, the bill that was passed to grant $25 million to Cleveland State Community College with 10 percent match included pledges. Pledges are a commitment to pay a gift but are not enforceable by law because there is no consideration. They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. So one has to ask if getting $250,000 from the County and the City each was a stipulation of the current donors? If part or all of the $2 million that has been donated are just pledges then it leaves Bradley County taxpayers paying the $250,000 in actual cash and we will be the suckers then. If they can raise $2 million from private donors then $500,000 should not be a problem from other private donors.

“Third, if we are considering moving a third of a penny to pay for a state-funded college infrastructure, then why would we not consider moving a third of a penny to pay for other safety measures at our county schools that we have told them to wait until next year on? How does one vote for this and then turn around and tell Bradley County taxpayers that we are not willing to take money from our fund balance to keep their children safe? If we are willing to rob from our fund balance for a project that does not even guarantee they will get their pledges, then aren’t our other departments’ requests and needs more prudent and justified to rob that money for?

“Fourth, it does not pass the smell test for me. It reeks of a good old boys club and I don’t play by their rules. Why was the Cleveland State Foundation not asking this publicly on the front page of the Banner for the last three months and why were they only lobbying a few Finance Committee members and commissioners? I may not be the most intelligent person on the County Commission but I do think that I vote consistently with how the taxpayers of Bradley County would want me to vote. I am also a taxpayer in the county and the city and I want my tax dollars going to fund our local schools.

“Fifth, to sum up my concerns and argument I will give my wish list for county projects and how they are my top priorities in the next budget year. I want a full time County Engineer instead of contracting one out. I also would like to see East Side Ambulance Station remodeled. We need to add more full-time employees at the EMS next year and purchase another convalescent van. Top priorities that should not have to be put on the sidelines if we are willing to rob from our fund balance.

“I am not the first commissioner to say that our children are our future and we should invest in them, but there has to be a balance and I invest my votes in our Bradley County schools first … some would say that this is why we need a property tax increase so that we can fund requests that have good arguments on both sides. However, I would still be cautious when considering a request to fund a state school with Bradley County taxpayer money even if the money was there.

“The Bradley County Commission is responsible for funding our local schools but we are not responsible for funding state schools. The removal of the Hall tax has put a burden on both the county and the city and we have to take that and many other factors into consideration.

“If Bradley County taxpayers wish to have a voice for or against, they can call their Bradley County commissioners or email them. You can find their information at www.bradleycountytn.gov and by coming to the June 18th noon Commission meeting. If you don’t speak up other commissioners will only have pressure from CSCC making the request. Your opinion matters.

“If the majority of my constituents this week tell me to vote for it, then I will consider it but so far the majority has told me not to use their tax dollars for this purpose.”

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