CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Cleveland City Council narrowly agreed Monday to commit up to $12 million of the city's $12.3 million reserve to construction of a new gymnasium for Cleveland High School.
"This is going to kill the city," said City Manager Janice Casteel, who repeatedly urged the City Council to reconsider supporting the measure in the discussion before the vote.
The council voted 4-2 in support of the measure, presented by Councilman Dale Hughes.
Vice Mayor Avery Johnson joined Councilmen Richard Banks and George Poe in approving Hughes' motion. Councilmen David May and Charlie McKenzie opposed the funding strategy. Councilman Bill Estes was absent.
"This is a black eye for the city if we don't deal with it," said Banks, citing a need to move forward as quickly as possible with demolition of the 50-year-old domed gymnasium.
"This was a courageous move by the City Council," said Dawn Robinson, a member of the Cleveland City Board of Education. "I was stunned at the outcome."
The school's current gymnasium was closed in December after an unfavorable structural analysis of the Raider Dome, which houses the facility. Preliminary estimates to replace the gym range between $11 million and $12.5 million.
If the city finds itself needing more money before it can replenish its reserves, it can look at borrowing or raising revenues, Banks said.
Casteel said it would be much better if the city borrowed money now.
The money for the project will not be taken out in a lump sum, but in draws, which should soften the impact, Hughes said.
But even drawing the money over a two-year period will be catastrophic to the reserve fund, Casteel said.
Another problem will be the potential downgrading of Cleveland's financial standing, she said, citing the city's recent boost from an A+ rating to a AA rating by Standard & Poor's Rating Services.
"Two months out of the year we are usually at a negative cash flow, waiting on taxes," May said. "We got into this situation in the 1980s where we asked Cleveland Utilities to pay their taxes early so we could pay our salaries."
"We're going the wrong way," said May, who said he would be willing to support a tax increase if necessary.
Banks said he did not believe the City Council could come up with the four votes needed to pass a property tax increase on top of the 18.51 cent increase that was made last year to maintain existing levels of service.
"We are very appreciative of the City Council's support," Cleveland High School principal Autumn O'Bryan said. "Difficult situations call for difficult solutions."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.