County to vote on tax increase
by JOYANNA LOVE, Banner Staff Writer
Jul 23, 2013 | 956 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LFMS work discussed
Jeff Morelock
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A proposed tax increase to move Lake Forest Middle School renovations forward will be voted on by the Bradley County Commission at its Aug. 5 meeting.

Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock presented the proposal during Monday’s work session. The resolution states an increase of 7.72 cents per $100 of assessed property would be required to bring in the revenue needed to allow for a bond issue to finance the project.

The resolution projects a 3 percent interest rate on a 20-year bond.

“I think most of us agree this new construction is needed at the school. ... Even with this proposal, construction could not start until sometime after July of 2014. Nobody likes a tax increase but we are called on up here to make tough decisions sometimes,” Morelock said.

He said any increased tax revenue from growth in the future would be needed for operating costs and should not be committed to the project. Morelock has proposed the tax increase as a way of getting the project moving before conditions at the school force something to be done.

Fifth District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said although he agrees something needs to be done, he would not be supporting the resolution.

“I represent probably the lowest socioeconomic district in the county, 80 percent of it is in the city. If this were to pass, it would not be the first tax increase,” Yarber said.

Yarber said many residents in his district were already going to be paying higher taxes because of a city tax increase. He also said those in his district whose property values have gone up would be paying more taxes as a result of reappraisal. (Since many properties’ value decreased, the reappraisal process resulted in a higher certified tax rate to keep revenue even. However, those whose property values went up will actually be paying more than they would have under the old tax rate.)

“This would be the third tax increase that my people have seen,” Yarber said.

Seventh District Commissioner Mark Hall also said he could not support the resolution.

“My constituents pay both city and county taxes. I think they simply pay enough. I have the largest percentage of senior citizens living in my district on a fixed income,” Hall said. “I will not put a burden on them in their last few days.”

An ad hoc committee formed to research funding options for the project did not have a plan for funding the project without waiting for increased revenue from growth or payments in lieu of taxes from local industries.

The entire LFMS project is estimated to cost $14 million. This would fund a new academic building and renovate the gymnasium, cafeteria and a few other buildings that are being kept. Adding in the portion of money required to be given to Cleveland City Schools brings the total to $19.5 million. Bradley County Schools has committed to providing $1 million to the project, if the Commission commits to it in the next year.

Funding was also an element of the discussion about a proposed workhouse.

Consideration of a workhouse as a form of alternative sentencing is moving forward. The finance committee is expected to consider the project during its first meeting in August. Director of misdemeanor probation Rich Kienlen presented information on the proposed program to the Commission on Monday.

The greatest concern is whether there would be enough offenders getting jobs to make the program successful. Kienlen said this is where some work would need to be done with local industries to help unemployed nonviolent offenders get hired. This would be done through partnerships with local industries. Kienlen said he has already talked with M&M Mars and that company has agreed to hold seven positions for those in the workhouse program. He said a number of community partnerships could be formed to provide classes to help better prepare individuals for when they are released.

“This isn’t just a Bradley County Sheriff’s (Office) problem or misdemeanor probation’s problem. This is really a communitywide problem,” Kienlen said. “We need to get businesses partnering with us. We need to get churches partnering with us.”

He spoke against privatization of the program, saying it could bring in revenue for the county. Yarber was in agreement the facility should not be privately run. He cited a facility in another state where privatization of a workhouse had led to corruption.

Kienlen said the workhouse would be cost effective because it would cost less to house someone in the workhouse than in the jail. Revenue could also be generated by renting out office space. Kienlen has already spoken to a bond company interested in renting some space.

Overcrowding at the jail started conversations about alternatives. Yarber said it is something that will be needed in the near future. He said ignoring the overcrowding issue will not make it go away. First District Commissioner Ed Elkins said Judge Sheridan Randolph had approached him asking what the Commission was going to do about the overcrowding.

“The last several times when people have showed up for their lockup, they are turned away because they don’t have any place to put them,” Elkins said. “The judge is saying, ‘When are we actually going to be able to put these people in jail?’”

The jail was designed to hold 408 inmates. As of July 1, there were 495 inmates.

A prefabricated building is being considered for the workhouse and would be constructed behind the Bradley County Jail. Total estimated costs for monthly operations, including paying off the building, come to $90,936. Seventh District Commissioner Bill Winters said maintenance costs need to be added to the estimates.

Second District Commissioner Connie Wilson asked whether the county had the “borrowing power” to finance the cost of the building.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the Commission would probably need to consider a financing option through the company providing the building. He said the program would create its own revenue stream to pay back the money.

Among those who would qualify for the program would be those in violation of misdemeanor probation and those behind in child support payments.

The program would house those in the program for 12 hours. They would leave for work and be out for 12 hours. Most likely they would participate in community service projects on the weekends.

Also during the meeting, two rezoning requests for land on Dalton Pike were added to the next voting session’s agenda.