published Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Commission plans to buy Brainerd school with bonds

by Dan Whisenhunt

The Hamilton County Commission opened its wallet Wednesday, with commissioners verbally agreeing to use short-term loans to buy the empty David Brainerd School for $3.4 million.

The county school board, which will meet tonight, will have that option to consider as it moves to acquire the property on Igou Gap Road in East Brainerd.

Buying the school would help alleviate overcrowding at nearby East Brainerd Elementary School.

A private Christian school, David Brainerd opened in 2004 and closed in 2009.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger recommended the county buy the property with “commercial paper,” short-term loans that the county eventually wants to turn into longer-term bonds with a fixed interest rate.

“This is something that appears to fit really well with what we do with our commercial paper,” Coppinger said.

Commissioner Joe Graham said the commission should consider paying for the site with money from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, known as PILOTs.

PILOT money is generated from property tax breaks offered to companies like Volkswagen. The county is holding onto PILOT money from Volkswagen while it decides whether to earmark the funds for school construction.

Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander told commissioners the county had collected $2.7 million in PILOT money in February.

Gary Waters, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services for the schools, told commissioners the school board has its eye on three other properties.

Two are sites to replace Ooltewah and Ganns Middle Valley elementary schools and one is a site for a consolidated school that would combine Dupont, Rivermont and Alpine Crest elementaries, he said.

He did not have a cost figure for those sites.

Commissioner Greg Beck said if the commission is making purchases with commercial paper, he would like to build a new football stadium and track at Howard School of Academics and Technology.

In other business:

n Hullander told commissioners that the county last week filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Comfort Suites on Williams Street for failure to pay $174,756 in hotel-motel taxes since 2008. A call to the owner, RADHA Properties, was not returned Wednesday.

n Commissioners also approved two contract extensions.

The first was a $921,868 increase to a $3 million contract with Talley Construction to complete a “setout yard” — a staging area for trains — at Enterprise South industrial park.

The county will split the sum with Chattanooga and is applying for a $307,289 economic development grant to offset the cost.

The second extends the county’s contract with Corrections Corp. of America to operate the Silverdale Detention Center.

The daily rate per prisoner will increase from $38.81 now to $39.59 in 2012. There’s a 915-prisoner minimum, but Director of Corrections Barbara Payne said the county receives a discount of roughly $5 per prisoner in the daily rate when Silverdale has 700 or more prisoners.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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