Commissioners continue to debate school building plans
Mary E. Hinds News Herald
At Monday night's meeting of the Loudon County Commission, what began as a discussion of financing the school building plan seemed to become the opening exchange in the race for county mayor. 

County School Board member Van Shaver, who is running for County Mayor against the incumbent Doyle Arp, was on hand at the meeting when his son, County Commissioner Austin Shaver, began discussions on the school's building program and the possibility of getting estimates for terms for borrowing amounts ranging from $30 to $50 million.

After much discussion on the building plan and financing sources, the commission voted 5-3 against getting estimates. With Commissioners Don Miller and Chris Parks not in attendance, the remaining eight commissioners voted with only Bob Franke, Earlena Maples and Shaver voting in favor of getting the estimates. At that point, Van Shaver spoke from the audience saying their was no majority given the absent commissioners. "Let them run the meeting up here," Arp told him. 

The vote was followed by the public speaking portion of the agenda. "You people need to get together," said Loudon County resident Richard Truitt adding the situation with the school building program has gone on "year after year" and they need to "put away your little, petty grievances" and "get something done." 

At the outset of the meeting Austin Shaver asked that school building funding be added to the agenda and began the discussion by moving that the commission ask Accounting and Budget Director Tracy Blair to seek out the best available rates for the county to borrow money for the school building program "It's almost like bringing the finance side to bid," Shaver said, adding the school board had voted to ask the county commission for numbers. "This is not a motion to lock in a number, but to give the school board an idea of what they are working with," he explained. 

Don Shell, head of the architectural firm Community Tectonics, told the commissioners his firm was working on three of the four projects in Phase I of the building program. He said he estimated the county would need $45 to $47 million to fund all four projects - a new school at Greenback, a new middle school at location to be determined, renovations at Philadelphia School and the combining of Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle School.

Shell said the poor economy could work to the county's advantage with firms lowering their bids in an effort to secure a large building contract. He said he could not recommend getting actual bids, as Commissioner Don Miller had suggested at an earlier commission workshop, because a lot of firms would be bidding and spending a lot of time and money getting their bids ready and it wouldn't be fair to call for bids when the county still has no idea how much it can finance. 

He also said given the four to six month lag between asking for bids and getting prices the county might not be able to take advantage of current economic conditions because prices could do down even more. He suggested the county not actually bid it until the money is available. 

Commissioner David Meers suggested that the commission meet with the school board in the new year to discuss exactly where the building plan stands. Meers said he would not vote for any plan until he got an answer to what would happen to the old Greenback School building if a new school was built. He added any plans should have "no bells and whistles"  and that he was "not in any hurry to spend that kind of money." 

Shaver then repeated his motion with Maples giving the second. Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp spoke up saying Blair was not the person to contact about getting estimates. "That's Leo's job," Arp said meaning County Purchasing Director Leo Bradshaw. He added anyone who wanted that information could work with his office and that he would get the estimates even if he agreed or disagreed. "We're glad to spin our wheels up there," he said, but he cautioned about pressing financial institutions to spend too much time coming up with estimates because they'll think we'll borrow from them. 

Arp went on to say if the school board wanted anything like the $100 million being spoken of three years ago, the commission had better be ready to raise the rate and raise taxes. He said the building plan started at $100 million and "three years later we're still at an impasse." He added the commission had never been told definitively what is needed.

Shaver spoke up to clarify his motion, saying he had brought possible financing plans to the county commission three times and that those plans were not designed from the school board's perspective. He reiterated he wanted estimates for the most we could do without raising taxes. 

Shaver acknowledged that interest rates could change from the time of any estimates to when the county went to actually borrow the money. "This motion does not delay the process or commit the county commission to spending one dollar," he said reminding the commission the school board had formally asked for this.

Shaver told the commission it was important to let the school board know if the county could only finance, for example, $35 million so they would know to scale back their plans. "

Arp said if Shaver had just come to the commission's budget committee it would already be done and he would have finance estimates in hand. He said instead Shaver had sought "headlines for him and his dad," 

Arp said the Shavers preferred to run to the paper and circumvent the process because of the upcoming election.