published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Hamilton County rakes in $4.2 million in PILOT funds

BY THE NUMBERS

$4,248,680: Total PILOT funds collected

$3,628,553: Total PILOT funds allocated to schools

$97,272: Total designated for City of Collegedale

Source: Hamilton County Trustee's Office

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Hamilton County Schools officials now have $3.6 million in their coffers for education.

The money is the schools' portion of $4.2 million in payment-in-lieu-of-tax funds collected during the 2011 tax year by County Trustee Bill Hullander's office. The funds were due by Feb. 29.

Known as PILOT funds, the money comes from the county's deals used to lure businesses such as Volkswagen to the area. Under PILOT, businesses are allowed to pay only the schools' portion of their property taxes for a certain number of years.

Hullander's office finalized the PILOT numbers over the weekend on an account that created a political wrestling match between county commissioners and school officials for more than a year, culminating with Commissioner Fred Skillern figuratively calling schools Superintendent Rick Smith to the mat.

Of this year's overall PILOT intake, $94, 272 went to the City of Collegedale because of terms of an agreement with two companies -- Custom Baking and McKee Foods -- located there.

Last year, Commissioner Joe Graham proposed, and commissioners passed in an 8-1 vote, a measure that would hold post-2009 PILOT education funds in escrow and require school officials to seek the commission's approval to spend the money on individual capital or maintenance projects.

Then last month, in a vote called for by Commissioner Chester Bankston, the commission voted 6-3 to reverse itself and hand about $1.15 million back to the school board, money it had been holding since last year. The vote also cleared the way for the release of all of this year's PILOT funds earmarked for education.

After the vote, an angry Skillern talked about what he saw as Smith working against him on the PILOT issue and said, "His ass is mine."

This year's PILOT total is up over last year, when the county collected $2.91 million for schools. Part of the 2010 total, $1.76 million, was never subject to the county commission's control.

Graham still isn't happy about the return of control of the post-2009 funds. Graham, Skillern and Commissioner Jim Fields opposed the funds' return.

"This is a windfall for them," Graham said.

He opposes the money being spent on anything other than buildings and maintenance.

"Instead, it's going into the general fund," Graham said. "It's irresponsible to release the PILOT money. It should be used for growth."

Bankston said he still stands behind his push to return the money.

"We do not have the right to tell the schools what to do with their money," he said.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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