City, county to discuss stormwater and sales taxes
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Oct 30, 2012 | 1109 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Topics of discussion will likely be education, stormwater and the sales tax lawsuit Wednesday when the Cleveland City Council and Bradley County Commission get together for a joint meeting.

The Council initially asked for a joint meeting in September to ask the Commission to join with the city in a countywide flood study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Education funding was added to the agenda Oct. 22, when Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff spoke to the Council about the need for another elementary school.

At-Large City Councilman Richard Banks suggested then that it was time to formulate a “Plan B” to pay for a new school since “Plan A” failed. “Plan A” was a referendum for a wheel tax that was soundly defeated in the August election.

How much conversation there will be is questionable. County commissioners are focused on recouping $3 million in annual sales tax should the Tennessee Court of Appeals decide in the city’s favor. A decision could come at anytime, but it is not expected until after Jan. 1, 2013.

“How could you not be focused on the lawsuit with the loss of $3 million staring you in the face,” Commission Chair Louie Alford said this morning. “I imagine we’ll take it as far as we can go,” meaning Bradley County would probably appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Alford, speaking as one of 14 commissioners, said Bradley County would have no other option.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis recently brought to the attention of the finance committee that in the event the court sides with the city, the county general fund would see an immediate loss of revenue.

Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said Monday, “In order to prepare for the potential loss of revenue, the finance committee has chosen to identify the areas of the general fund that are discretionary. Those areas include jointly funded projects, contracts with the city, and discretionary county services. By identifying the areas of government that are impossible and impractical to cut, we will be able to identify what services must or could be cut. At that point, it will be up to the Commission to decide how to proceed with the reality of a $3-plus million loss.”

Alford said in his opinion, “everything is on the table” with the exception of a veterans home that is already funded. The Spring Creek Industrial Park, for example, is not budgeted.

Replacing the money would require a 16-cent increase in the property tax rate.

Lowe is compiling a list of jointly funded projects that could be decreased or eliminated. He plans to present at the joint meeting.

Ringstaff told Council members that analyses show an elementary school with a combined cafeteria, slanted roof and geothermal system, plus land, would cost about $13 million.

Upland Design Group of Crossville, and Cope Architecture of Knoxville, each estimated a 75,000-square-foot school built for 500 students would cost about $140 per square foot.

By comparison, Mayfield is 86,700 square feet and cost $157.09 per square foot when it opened in October 2005.

Ringstaff said the student population of city schools is 5,186. In the next four years, student enrollment is expected to reach 5,742, in 2016-17. While the number of schools has remained the same over the past seven years, attendance has increased by 708 students.

The schools director said several city elementary schools are overcrowded or at capacity. With construction of several new apartment complexes, schools that have maintained a steady but stable enrollment are facing enrollment challenges in the future they cannot handle.

Ringstaff told the Council that only Yates Primary is below capacity, but it too, will be overpopulated with the addition of 324 apartments on Adkisson Drive. Shumate Development Corporation of Westerville, Ohio, broke ground on the first 180 units earlier today.

On the topic of flooding, the city recently signed a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a flood risk management study of Mouse Creek and Candies Creek. The estimated total cost of the study is $1.05 million. The city and federal government will each pay 50 percent, or $525,000.

The Council committed in August to allocate funding for its share of the cost to study 26 miles of South Mouse Creek and 42 miles of Candies Creek. The study area is only within the city’s urban growth boundary.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said Monday the city is asking commissioners to expand the study countywide because stormwater does not begin in the city and does not end within city boundaries.