The Lake Forest Middle School ad hoc committee presented its recommendation to the full Commission at Monday’s work session.
The recommendation commits any surplus funding through 2015 to the project, with the needed funding being borrowed in 2015. Under this plan, construction of the new academic building would begin in 2016.
Funding from the Wacker Polysilicon North America payments in lieu of taxes would be available to make the bond payment starting in 2016. This recommendation was placed on the agenda for the next voting session.
“I hate that we would dedicate all of the surplus to one project, and I do understand the need for the school,” 4th District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said. “However the school board hasn’t come forward with anything on the table either. I would have thought they would at least express more interest or more dedication to it, saying what they could give.”
Second District Commissioner Ed Elkins said school board members had mentioned savings in energy costs if the proposed new academic building and repairs were completed. He said the money could be used to help pay for the project.
Elkins said he wanted to see projections of how much money would be saved. Elkins said the school board also needs to formally vote on whether energy savings would be used in funding the project.
Peak-Jones put in a formal request for information on estimated proposed energy savings and any additional funds the Bradley County Board of Education could commit to be provided to the Commission.
“Then, I recommend we look at cuts first,” Peak-Jones said.
Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock said the ad hoc committee had already looked at the issue.
“We are on a bare bones budget right now with evey department. You talk about cutting, you can forget it. I will never vote to cut any county department,” Commission chairman Louie Alford said.
Any potential cuts discussed in the ad hoc committee did not bring the revenue needed to fund borrowing for the project.
“The most I could come up with in cuts was $1.3 million and it wasn’t enough,” 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said.
Lowe said the Commission needs to prioritize and decide what the Commission feels is most important.
“Someone is going to be told no,” Lowe said.
He said cuts would need to be considered before a tax increase would be considered.
“I think the long-term impact financially of not rebuilding the school … is not in the best interest of the taxpayers, and is wasteful,” Lowe said.
Seventh District Commissioner Bill Winters reminded the Commission that the school board is making payments to the city of Cleveland as a result of the sales tax litigation starting this year. These payments will be about $50,000 a month.
At its last meeting the Bradley County Board of Education approved moving forward with soil tests to see if geothermal could be installed at the site.
Geothermal heating and cooling is already in use at Park View Elementary School, which has been cited as the system’s most energy efficient school.
Payments in lieu of taxes from other industry agreements are already committed to other projects through 2016.
“We’re basically punting this to the next Commission, correct?” 2nd District Commissioner Connie Wilson said. “We are not funding anything right now. … Three years is a very long time for Lake Forest to wait, in my opinion.”
Funding projects sooner would require a tax increase or a decrease in the level of service offered to county residents, according to 5th District Commissioner Jeff Yarber.
He said if cuts were made to Animal Control or another department, he would want to know where the money was going.
Sixth District Commissioner Mel Griffith asked if a future Commission would be obligated to follow this plan if it was approved by the Commission.
Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said a future Commission would not be legally obligated to follow any approved plan for the project.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the recommendation had the money being borrowed too early to truly be feasible. He said the money should be borrowed in 2016, not 2015.
Original projections from more than a year ago put the project at $12 million. Current estimates project a cost of $14 million. These numbers do not include the portion of funding that would be required to be given to Cleveland City Schools per state law.
Sixth District Commissioner Robert Rominger said if the academic building is not built soon, maintenance costs will increase.
Potential savings from the animal contract depend on what option the county chooses. None of the options being considered have been formally endorsed by the Cleveland City Council
Yarber placed an option on the agenda that would keep the same level of service, but uses audited numbers to determine cost.
Davis said this option corrects an issue in the current contract.
Based on numbers he discussed with City Manager Janice Casteel, Davis said the option is estimated to cost $298,455 the first year. This would save the county more than $100,000 based on an increase if the current contract would have automatically renewed. Yarber said he wanted to contribute any savings to the Lake Forest renovation project.
Elkins placed the recommendation from the finance committee on the agenda. This option eliminates the pick-up of animals in the county and has a greater cost savings. County animals would still be taken at the city animal shelter and residents could drop animals off. This option, based on estimates, would cost the county $167,139 the first year.
Elkins did not designate where the funds would go. Alford said the county has more immediate needs for which potential savings could be used
The Commission’s voting session will be held Monday at noon.