published Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Bradley County, Cleveland leaders to meet

  • photo
    Cleveland, Tennessee, Mayor Tom Rowland speaks in this file photo.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Education and flooding will be the key topics of a joint meeting of Bradley County and Cleveland leaders at the end of the month.

However, litigation involving how the city and county split sales tax revenues may present challenges to those discussions.

"We need to discuss our educational needs as well as the need for a flood study that includes the whole county," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said.

Both county and city school systems have requested capital funding boosts, mainly to alleviate overcrowding.

After a proposed $32 wheel tax failed in an August referendum, officials began looking for other ways to fund school needs.

City leaders also want the county to share in the cost of the flood study.

The Cleveland City Council recently approved $525,000 for a flood risk management study, which will be performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on creek basins within city limits.

However, planning officials recommended studies for Little Chattata and Conasauga creeks, both outside the city.

"It [the study] can't stop at the city limits," Councilman George Poe has said. "Without the county, it's pointless."

In the meantime, litigation on the sales tax revenue has reached the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

"It could cost us several million dollars," said Louie Alford, chairman of the Bradley County Commission. "We would have to take a serious look at services and joint ventures with the city."

No decision has been announced on arguments that were presented to appellate judges in Knoxville earlier this month, said Crystal Freiberg, attorney for the county.

The dispute over sales tax revenues arose most recently over tax initiatives passed separately by the city and county in 2009. Ultimately, the matter questions revenue-sharing agreements between the two governments going back to 1967. Those agreements were driven by city and county student populations and whether sales taxes were generated inside city limits.

Earlier this year, the County Commission voted 13-3 for a measure stating the county's intent to withdraw from major funding partnerships with Cleveland "due to a potential loss of sales tax revenue."

At the time, the resolution was characterized as "a symbolic gesture" by Commissioner Mark Hall and as "meaningless" by Commissioner Jeff Morelock.

Bradley County and Cleveland leaders will meet at the Mountain View Inn at noon on Oct. 31.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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