Bradley County property tax rise proposed; revenue would fund middle school improvements

Bradley County property tax rise proposed; revenue would fund middle school improvements

May 30th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A Bradley County commissioner has proposed an 8 cent property tax increase to pay for a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock made the proposal to county commissioners and asked that it be placed on the voting agenda for Monday.

"I just feel it's time to quit talking and do something about Lake Forest," he said. "We've talked about when we have the money and are we going to have the money."

Morelock said he was open to discussion about how renovation costs might be reduced and how the county might cut expenses to put more money toward the middle school makeover.

The project has been the Bradley County Board of Education's top priority for a couple of years.

The makeover would replace more than half of Lake Forest's 17 classroom pod structures with a central academic building containing more than 50 classrooms. The building would use geothermal technology to save energy on heating and cooling. The renovation would head off more than $6 million in expected maintenance and repair costs to many of the school's 37-year-old buildings, education officials said.

If the county funds the middle school renovations, it actually will need to borrow $21 million. By law, the county must raise $1 for Cleveland City Schools for every $2 it raises for county schools. The formula is based on student population and ensures that city schools get the benefit of county property taxes paid by city residents.

If passed, the tax increase would become effective July 1. It would generate $1.54 million a year for debt service, the cost for a 20-year bond for $21 million issued at 4 percent interest, officials said.

Commissioner Adam Lowe requested time to familiarize himself with the proposed county budget -- which also is due to be presented Monday -- first.

"I think [more time] would be valuable," Lowe said. "It's just my opinion to have some time with that, to see what next year is going to look like based on what the mayor has worked out with his departments."

Officials have wrestled with how and when to fund the makeover for months in an ad hoc committee of commissioners and school leaders and in the full Bradley County Commission.

The ad hoc committee recommended that a $20 million bond be issued in late 2015, with construction to begin in 2016 and the new academic building operational in 2017. That plan is based on surplus revenues projected for 2016, as funds become available.

The Bradley County Commission meets Monday at 7 p.m. at the Bradley County Courthouse.

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