Bradley leaders seek $38 million for school projects

Bradley leaders seek $38 million for school projects

November 18th, 2011 By Paul Leach/Correspondent in News

Jeff Yarber

POLL: Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County commissioners reviewed long-range plans for funding $38 million in capital projects in a Wednesday evening meeting with county and city school officials.

The current proposal calls for more taxes, one way or another, but the school systems may not receive the funding until 2014.

A $32 wheel tax -- added each time a car is registered in the county -- or a property tax increase of just under 15 cents per $100 of assessed value would allow the county to borrow the money while maintaining its debt service, according to a proposal presented by Commissioner Jeff Morelock.

The county would pay $2.5 million annually on a 25-year bond at 4 percent, according to plan estimates.

A wheel tax of $35 also would give the county $270,000 in which to create a merit pay program for its employees, according to the proposal.

"This is just a scenario," said Morelock, who also said he had made "very conservative assumptions" with all the numbers.

"This is a good starting point," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, chairman of the education committee.

The commissioners agreed that they probably will pursue a wheel tax through a referendum in the general election ballot in August 2012 if a tax increase is required.

There has been strong resistance to a property tax increase, said Commissioner Connie Wilson, chairwoman of the finance committee.

"It will be an uphill battle," Yarber agreed.

The commission's finance and education committees have been wrestling with a number of priority needs for the county school system, including land for a third middle school, improvements and a new building for Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School and construction for a new elementary school in southern Bradley County. The projects are estimated to cost about $25.5 million.

Cleveland City Schools stands to gain $12 million if the county raises enough money to cover all the Bradley County Schools' capital expenses. City schools earn $1 for every $3 the county raises for school funding, based on student populations.

The money desperately is needed for a new elementary school, likely to be located in the Hardwick Farms area, said Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools, in an earlier meeting with county commissioners.

"We're almost in panic mode," Ringstaff said Wednesday, citing dramatic increases in city school populations.

The Bradley County Commission's education and finance committees will hold another joint meeting on school funding Nov. 30.

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