According to numbers presented to the Commission Monday by county planner Corey Divel, it is estimated only 48 students from the area attend the high school.
Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel had asked Divel to gather the numbers after Commission discussions about the impact of annexation at the last voting session.
The Bradley County Board of Education has gone on record requesting $26,560,000 for land for a new middle school, a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, an addition to Walker Valley High and an elementary school to replace Blue Springs Elementary School. These needs were recapped by McDaniel on Monday.
“I’m just wanting you to get the big picture [about] the things we’ve asked for ... I do want you to understand they are necessary things. They are not just a wish list,” McDaniel said. “These are important matters that need to be addressed. Could we take them one at a time? We could ... but really which one do you take off the table?”
Implementing a wheel tax has been discussed as the solution to funding the projects. A resolution to let the voters decide through referendum whether a $32 wheel tax is implemented was the main topic of discussion Monday. This is the first time the final education committee draft was addressed by the full Commission.
Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock said the Commission needed to look further into the exact wheel tax amount needed. The information presented to the finance committee by Morelock was used to determine the needed amount. However, the information was based on a 25-year bond.
“I would like to get some more technical information through the county mayor’s office ... to tell us what we can do,” Morelock said. “If we’re going to do this I would like to see it researched and done properly.”
Morelock said he was not comfortable with the Commission simply using his numbers.
Second District Commissioner Connie Wilson asked to have the mayor’s office work on confirming that a $32 wheel tax would meet the needs. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said some of the variables need to be solidified before his office can do the correct calculations. Wilson said the finance committee could discuss the issue and determine whether a 4 or 5 percent bond for 20 or 25 years would be a better choice.
Fifth District Commissioner Jeff Yarber reminded commissioners they could present a motion to add other projects to be funded by the wheel tax. However, he also said the more complex the wheel tax resolution gets, the less likely voters will be to approve it.
Concerns about the timing of the referendum mentioned in the wheel tax resolution were voiced by 1st District Commissioner Ed Elkins.
The current resolution states the referendum will be held in August. Elkins said this leaves the Commission with no other options should voters not pass the wheel tax. Elkins said the Commission should hold the referendum in March, so members would know if the wheel tax was going into effect before they approved the budget. The deadline to announce a March referendum has passed.
Yarber also said the referendum date was set as August in the resolution, so the school system would have a chance to tell people why it needs the revenue.
“Our (the education committee) intent with the referendum was very clear — we wanted an informed public at the ballot box voting on their convictions and their priorities,” 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said. “We wanted an informed public, which meant March wasn’t a good date to inform the public. August was a good date.”
Elkins also pointed out many of the students who attend county schools are actually zoned for the Cleveland City Schools.
“I think before we impose any kind of a tax for Bradley County residents to build new schools, we’ve got to study this other issue,” Elkins said.
Seventh District Commissioner Bill Winters reminded the Commission that the county gets state funding for each of these students.
Yarber said there were also county students who attend city schools.
Winters and Lowe said looking at how the wheel tax can help the county pay down current debt from educational projects would be a good idea. The resolution was not put on the agenda for the next voting session, and the Commission plans to discuss the issue further at the next work session.
Also during the meeting the Commission discussed the possibility of changing meeting times to make it easier for those Commissioners with full-time jobs to attend. No resolution to change the time was placed on the agenda for the next voting session.
A resolution to encourage the state Legislature to consider taking over the payment for mental health evaluations for those charged with misdemeanor offenses was also placed on the agenda.