published Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Schools, county pull together on funds

by Adam Crisp

The first time Hamilton County commissioners and school board members met to discuss the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes issue in February, things didn’t go well.

On Tuesday, the parties tried again, and though neither side reversed positions, parties on both sides of the issue said they left with a more positive feeling.

“We share their concerns and we wanted to open up a positive line of communication,” said Commission Chairman Larry Henry. “We aren’t school board members, and we don’t know all the issues.”

Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, known as PILOTs, are property tax breaks that excuse companies from tax bills for a period of time except for the portion of the tax that goes to schools.

The commission, which is responsible for giving the school board its money, wants to use PILOT money only for school construction, while the school board wants to put the money in its general fund.

On Tuesday, while commissioners restated that they would control PILOT funds, they also said they would seek input from the school system for direction on funding priorities.

“The first meeting was just everyone reacting to the news that the county was going to withhold the PILOT funds ... which pretty much made it adversarial,” said school board member David Testerman. “This second meeting was more about us sitting down and figuring out how we can work together.”

School officials, responding to the request for a list of needs, turned over a two-page review of current facilities. The document outlines the need for six new schools and the closure of six others in coming years.

School leaders also have plans for additions and renovations at other schools to keep up with growth.

Commissioners wanted to hear about the school system’s plans to accommodate Volkswagen and other industrial growth around the Enterprise South industrial site. Both sides seemed satisfied with the exchange.

“They clarified their position, and that was very important,” Testerman said. “What I heard was them saying, ‘You’ve got needs. We’re here to listen to them and help fund your needs.’”

More: PILOT money for schools may not be a windfall

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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