Bradley County, Tenn., property tax hike vote postponed

Bradley County, Tenn., property tax hike vote postponed

June 5th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

The cabinets in art teacher Kari Garrett's classroom at Lake Forest Middle School in Cleveland are falling from their hinges in this file photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A Bradley County Commission vote on an 8 cent property tax increase, intended to fund $14 million in proposed renovations at Lake Forest Middle School, has been postponed again.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock, who sponsored the tax increase proposal, asked Monday that the issue be addressed during the commission's June 17 meeting.

However, commissioners did grapple with the possibility of the Bradley County Board of Education contributing money to the middle school makeover.

After a heated discussion, they voted 10-2 to ask for a formal response from the school board in regard to its willingness and ability to partner funds with the county for the capital project.

Several commissioners originally expressed opposition to the request, which was presented by Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones. The request's wording, which asked for a "financial commitment" from the school board, caused concern until it was changed to ask for a formal response.

"We just want to see some kind of involvement, some kind of financial commitment from them," Peak-Jones said. "I don't think that the commission should take it on by themselves. I know there's other options out there, I just think we should all participate in it."

Funding could come from potential energy savings to the school system as a result of Lake Forest's overhaul, which may include the incorporation of geothermal technology, Peak-Jones said.

Bradley County Schools already has made financial commitments to the project, said Commissioner Bill Winters, who along with commission Chairman Louie Alford voted against the request.

The school board has allocated funds to roof repairs and other maintenance while it waits for the capital project to receive funding in a couple of years, Winters said. Furthermore, he said, it will make 30 monthly payments of $50,000 as part of a settlement agreement regarding a dispute with Cleveland over the allocation of sales tax revenues generated by a pair of increases implemented by the city and county in 2009.

The school system had the opportunity, just like the county, to put the disputed funds into an escrow account instead of spending it, Peak-Jones said.

"I don't want to hold a school hostage," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, citing previous discussions with education officials who said any energy savings would be needed in the school system's operating budget.

If school board members were actually "fiscally irresponsible," they would be held accountable by their constituents, Yarber said. Attempting to second-guess them and use "strong-arm" tactics to get funding from them is not the right way to handle the issue, he said.

The proposed makeover of Lake Forest Middle School has been listed as a top priority by county education officials for a number of years.

The renovations call for replacing more than half of the campus' 17 pod buildings with a 57-classroom academic facility and are intended to prevent more than $6 million in expected maintenance for the 37-year-old structures.

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