Nine members of the Commission and two members of the City Council met with Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and staff members for both governments to discuss school funding and a proposed flood study.
“The elementary schools are overcrowded. Rezoning is not the answer because we don’t have seats at any of the schools. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless,” Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff said.
Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford said the Commission was still working with the county school system on a way to meet needs, but wanted to hear the city’s plans to fund its school system needs.
City Councilman Richard Banks said the city has discussed taking out a short-term loan to build the needed city elementary school, then paying off the note when the county borrows money for the county school system.
Alford proposed that the $1.5 million held in escrow over the sales tax issue and the $40,000 going into this fund each month from the half-cent sales tax increase in 2009 be used to finance a bond issue to build the needed city elementary school.
“Your actual payments would be about $20,000 a month. I’m sure the city could come up with that amount of money,” Alford said. “So actually the money is there to build a school if the city would choose to use it for that purpose.”
City Manager Janice Casteel said $1 million of the funds being held has already been earmarked for paving projects.
“We borrowed that from the general fund, so we’ve already committed spending that on paving because it’s very necessary for our residential streets,” Casteel said.
Cleveland Board of Education member Dawn Robinson said the board had promised the community the schools portion of the 2009 sales tax increase would be used for buses, computers and school repairs. Parents had been concerned at the time that the increase would be used to construct new schools, while existing schools remained in need of repairs.
“Those parents went out and convinced all of their friends that if we pass this sales tax we’re going to get new carpet. We’re going to get new computers. If we tie up that money and build a new school, we in essence have lied to our citizens who helped us pass the sales tax,” Robinson said.
The school portion of the half-cent increase has been given to the school systems as it comes in. The disputed portion of the increase is currently being held by the Bradley County Trustee’s Office.
While a decision by the Court of Appeals was made Tuesday, each side has 15 days to further appeal the decision, according to attorney James Logan.
Neither local government had met to discuss the issue before Wednesday’s meeting. If neither side appeals, it would be 60 days before a mandate is issued to the governments requiring compliance with the ruling, Logan said.
Commissioner Robert Rominger said he is ready to put the sales tax issue in the past.
Tom Herbert from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville presented details on a flood study the city has approved. The city wants the county to partner with it, so the same updated information would be available for the entire county. Banks said it would benefit more people if the study is expanded to include the entire county.
Rowland said flooding is an issue affecting the county and the city. The current proposed flood study would update flood maps for Candies Creek, south Mouse Creek and tributaries of the two. The study would then outline changes that could be made to reduce flooding.
Councilman Dale Hughes asked if design costs for these changes were included in the $1 million cost. Herbert said only some of the design costs are included in this initial price. More funding would be needed for the designs and the implementation proposed solutions to flooding issues.
The current proposed review would be a $1 million study with 50 percent paid by the federal government and 50 percent being paid by local government. Including the entire county in the study would increase the cost. However, Herbert said such studies are usually less expensive to conduct in rural areas.
Jonathan Jobe, Cleveland director of engineering and development, said the study is needed to update inaccurate maps.
“Our maps are so wrong that they are not useable,” Jobe said. “We have areas right now they say are out of the floodway, so homeowners do not require flood insurance, but it will flood every time it rains 2 inches.”
He said other areas are marked as being in the floodplain, but are not. Updating FEMA mapping would give more accurate information for flood insurance purposes.
Banks said the flood plain study is a project the governments could work together on to benefit all local residents.
“If we want to see continued growth in our community we need to plan, and part of planning is flood control,” Banks said. “I would ask the county to at least look into the cost of it. Whether you fund it or not, that’s your decision.”
An updated cost for the study, if the county participates, was not available at the meeting.
“We could come up with that and present it to the county. That way they can make an intelligent decision,” Rowland said.
Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said she would like to see how much it would cost.
“We have a lot of priorities higher than doing a flood study,” Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.
Yarber pointed out a study only helps if money is available to fix issues it addresses.
Herbert said he would contact Bradley County Engineer Sandra Knight for the needed information, and get back to the county with estimated costs.