published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Chattanooga: Second school meeting sought


by Cliff Hightower

At least one more meeting between the Hamilton County Commission and the county Board of Education is needed to discuss how to handle $6 million in school funding, commissioners said Wednesday.

Warren Mackey, chairman of the commission's Education Committee, said commissioners and school board members who met Monday night threw around too many talking points and did not have enough substance. However, the session was a "start," he said.

More meetings would iron out details of how about $6 million in payment-in-lieu-of-tax funds should be spent.

Such agreements, often called PILOTs, are given to new businesses such as Volkswagen and Amazon in order to lure them to the area. Under the agreements, businesses don't have to pay full property taxes for a certain number of years, but they must pay the share of property tax that is slated for schools.

The money typically is given directly to the schools and added to the district's general purpose budget. But county commissioners passed a resolution two weeks ago that would take any PILOT money from new businesses and set it aside for school construction.

Commissioners talked at length about the funding Wednesday morning during their regular meeting.

BY THE NUMBERS

* $313 million: Total operating budget for the Hamilton County school system

* $6 million: Total amount of money the new payment-in-lieu-of-taxes affects

* 41,000: Children enrolled in the school system

* 74: Schools in Hamilton County

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education

School officials maintain the money needs to be part of the school system's $313 million operating budget.

Linda Mosley, chairwoman of the school board's Finance Committee, said Wednesday she agrees another meeting could be helpful. She said she is hopeful a resolution would come from another meeting. If not, it could be hard on the school budget, she said.

"We'll have to make some pretty dramatic cuts," she said.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said at least one meeting, and maybe two, need to be held before the commission starts working on the 2011-12 fiscal budget in May. He did not set dates for those meetings.

In other business, the county commission voted 8-0 to authorize an increase of a contract with Construction Consultants Inc. for $25,192. The company is doing renovations at the county courthouse.

The total amount for this phase of renovation, which started in December 2009, is $3 million, records show. The county has spent more than $10 million on the project since it began 10 years ago, records show.

The renovations already have helped fix molding and repair water damage, and the latest phase renovated offices within the courthouse.

Mackey told commissioners he did not want to keep throwing money into the courthouse, but said he felt more reassured of the spending after hearing it would give the courthouse 25 more years of life.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.

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