Cleveland, Bradley County trade verbal shots as court date looms

Cleveland, Bradley County trade verbal shots as court date looms

April 19th, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County commissioners will meet with Cleveland City Council members today in a last-ditch effort to avoid a Chancery Court hearing over how to share additional sales tax revenue approved by voters more than two years ago.

"We will try one last time," said Commissioner Brian Smith, who made the motion that all 14 commissioners approved.

"It's in the best interest of all the citizens of Bradley County that we come to a compromise," Commissioner Mark Hall said. "Not every dispute has to be settled in court."

Cleveland officials posted a legal advertisement Monday afternoon that they will have a work session with the Bradley County Commission at 5 p.m. today on sales tax revenue.

The city also announced its own called meeting for Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the City Council meeting room to consider any motions that may come from the work session.

A hearing in Chancery Court is set for Thursday.

Before the commission's Monday session, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland held a special City Council meeting to vote on whether to override Rowland's veto last week of a resolution seeking extended negotiating time. Only two council members, Avery Johnson and David May, attended, so there was no quorum and no vote could be taken, so the veto stands.

Rowland said he was "surprised and disappointed" by County Commission Chairman Louie Alford's statement to the media Sunday. Alford said he was "disappointed with the city's lack of interest in working toward a compromise."

Rowland said he and other council members have worked to maintain good relationships with the city.

After city voters approved a half-cent local sales tax increase to be used for capital projects, the county held its own referendum. County voters also approved the half-cent increase but without the capital projects limitation.

The county had no recourse but to file the lawsuit, County Attorney Joseph Byrd told commissioners Monday, because the city intended to break a previous revenue-sharing agreement over sales taxes.

City officials have said city voters expect only capital projects from the city's half-cent and that half-cent represents a separate fund.

After a mediation session two weeks ago, no one mentioned delaying the court hearing, Rowland said. He said he told Alford last week he vetoed the resolution to continue talks. To do so, he said, only would mean spending more time and money.

"We have compromised by agreeing to everything the county has asked us to do," Rowland said.

Johnson said the city is "definitely not being uncooperative."

In his written statement to the media, Alford said, "This is about doing what is right for the taxpayers of Cleveland and Bradley County. Regardless of what is decided on April 21, these funds will be tied up in a legal battle for another two years."

The Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce issued its own appeal to the city and county over the weekend, asking they accept the court's ruling and make no further appeals.

Contact Randall Higgins at rhiggins@timesfreepress.com or 423-314-1029.