Pay now or pay later.
A brief discussion by the Bradley County Commission Finance Committee on Wednesday came close to choosing the latter on the mixed drink tax reallocation of funds that was approved Monday by the full Commission.
A vote to delay the payment until the new budget cycle stalled with a tie vote with Commissioners J. Adam Lowe and Mel Griffith voting for the delay spurred by Lowe’s motion.
Committee Chairman Ed Elkins and Commissioner Jeff Morelock voted against.
Commissioner Bill Ledford was not present.
The four did eventually vote to go ahead with the payments as scheduled.
The figures before the committee showed in order to fulfill the Commission’s resolution to distribute the funds collected from 1981 to 2013 it would require $39,101 be paid to Cleveland City Schools and $81,437 to the county school system.
It was the committee’s job to formalize from which accounts the total of $120,538 would be paid.
The action presented to the committee by the Commission’s Monday vote was to pay the funds from the county fund balance.
Elkins reminded members the county trustee will allocate the revenue from the current year into the portion that goes into education for the city and county according to the Commission’s understanding of state law.
However, Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis expressed an opinion about dispersing the funds.
“We’re doing what we feel is the way it’s supposed to be done before a [court] ruling says that’s the way it’s supposed to be done,” Davis said. “The comment that might be said is it’s a known fact this is how it’s supposed to be done, then why the heck are we in court? And, why in the heck since ’81 has it been done this other way?”
The mayor expressed a concern about the timing of the payment.
“I know we’re doing this to help ourselves in court. But, if I got an unknown doctor bill today and it’s not in my budget this month, it’s going to get paid whenever I do my budget.
“If they’ve been waiting for 30 years, they can wait another two or three weeks or months until there’s a budget to pay for it,” Davis said.
He said the move was being done because of the advice of the county school board’s attorney, James Logan Jr.
“You are paying something immediately because we say it’s in black and white. It’s the way it’s supposed to be done even though it’s never been done that way before,” the mayor said. “We are doing it immediately with an ammendment. Because of that you’re lowering the fund balance which some would argue is not too low. But, it really is too low already.”
Elkins said it was his understanding that CTAS and MTAS have come to “some understanding” about splitting the funds according to average daily attendance numbers except for resort communities.
Lowe said he understood waiting on the court ruling, but it was his opinion the moneys had been incorrectly distributed.
“I can’t speak to the rationale of previous trustees, but like anything else governmental it’s out of sight, out of mind. Until it becomes a problem it never is a problem,” Lowe said.
He said the money is owed and “whether [the city] doing wrong is justification for us doing wrong ... I’ve just never been one to operate that way. I think we’re on the right way to do what we believe is the right distribution.”
Lowe said he believed there would not be a ruling from the court that would be focused directly on the Cleveland-Bradley County dispute.
He commented he agreed with Davis on the timing of the payment.
“We did pass this, is the mayor looking for a better time?” Lowe asked.
“A $100,000 expense from any other department would be told to wait until budget time,” Davis replied. “We’re only three months away.”
Davis said he understood the public relations of the move, but Lowe said he was not sure the immediate payment would make a difference should the final arguments make it to a courtroom.
“I’m not sure they’re going to evaluate the behavior of the county in a court case between the county schools and the city schools,” Lowe said. “At this point, we have not been brought in as a party so why would our behavior be in question?”
Elkins said since the funds had been collected all those years, “and had we been distributing according to what most people are saying is the proper way, we would not have this much fund balance.”