County wrangles on funds
Jeremy Styron
After a lengthy discussion about funding $919,000 for Loudon County Schools capital projects — including fieldhouses at Greenback and Loudon High schools, maintenance work, additional lockers and crowning the LHS football field — Loudon County Commission on June 2 voted to approve all projects.

But the agreement didn’t happen without dissenting votes.

Commission first considered a budget amendment to provide up to $29,000 to crown the field, which Chairman Roy Bledsoe said needed to get underway by June for the project to be ready for the start of the fall sports season. He said he planned to bring the project before the budget committee last Thursday, but the panel did not meet.

“If it’s not approved tonight we will not have an opportunity to move forward because of the way our seasons fall,” Loudon County Director of Schools Jason Vance told commission.

Commissioner Don Miller said he thought the Board of Education should have brought the plan before the county previously so members could have more time to consider the project.

“I think you could say why didn’t the school board come to us two months ago with this, and we could have run it through the regular process, but we are where we are,” Miller said. “If they don’t do it now it gets delayed a year.”

“We have done (this)” in the past, Bledsoe said about preempting the budget committee. “It’s not something we do often.”

Vance said the BOE received a quote for a little less than $20,000 to complete the project.

Loudon County Purchasing Director Joan Lovelace said if one contractor is hired for the project and the bill is more than $10,000, the project has to be put out for bids. She said the project could be bid out within two weeks.

“I don’t think it’s legal to split a project up just for the sake of getting under the bid process,” Commissioner Bob Franke said. “I think you can get in trouble for that, and I don’t think that’s a good practice to start.”

Commissioner Brian Jenkins made an amendment to Bledsoe’s original motion to approve funding the project for up to $29,000 contingent on the county verifying how the project should be contracted. Commissioner Steve Harrelson seconded. The amendment and the original motion passed 6-4, with Miller, Franke and Commissioners Earlena Maples and Rosemary Quillen dissenting during both roll calls.

The commission also considered moving $300,000 from the school fund balance to the education capital projects fund for the completion of the two fieldhouses, which is expected to cost about $1.5 million. The previous estimate for both projects was $1.2 million. Commission also discussed a $500,000 amendment for school maintenance and $90,000 for additional lockers.

Vance said the extra $300,000 for the fieldhouses was needed to add a weight room at Greenback and for additional work to complete both facilities. The $300,000 amendment was previously approved by the budget committee.

“This right here is why we have the procedures set in place because these type of discussions we’re having now should have been discussed at the workshop, and we’re ready to vote on it tonight,” Harrelson said. “I’ve not got a problem with this one (LHS football field), but all this other stuff’s being thrown on me tonight for the first time because I’m not on the budget committee, and we didn’t discuss it at the last workshop.”

Later in the meeting, Maples made a motion to send the two amendments for $90,000 and $500,000 to the capital projects and budget committees, which Franke said in a follow-up interview were not previously considered by the two panels.

Miller added an amendment to send the $300,000 back to the two committees, which was seconded by Maples. Miller said he would like more information about why the project cost went up from a total of $1.2 million to $1.5 million.

“We did not anticipate any delays on this at all because it went through the appropriate channels, so we have secured contracts to move forward on it,” Vance said about the fieldhouse projects. “So, to delay this amendment would mean that we would have to back up and speak to the people we awarded the contracts (to) and see if we couldn’t figure out a way to halt the process and start over again.”

Vance said the BOE is on schedule to complete the fieldhouse projects before the start of school, and a delay by commission could push the timeline back.

Finance Director Tracy Blair said she felt obligated to tell commission that if the BOE already has contracts in place, the money is encumbered.

“If there’s not an appropriation, then I can’t approve a purchase order,” Blair said.

“We have appropriated monies we felt would be approved tonight,” Vance said, noting that the BOE could perform a changeover if the $300,000 allocation was not OK’d by commission.

“In our defense, why would the school board be led to believe that the commission wouldn’t support moving $300,000 into an account to take care of stuff that we need for kids, and we know that we need for kids?” Vance said.

Quillen said she thought commission’s hand was being forced.

“I don’t see that doing the process that way assuming, yeah, we will help you with that — I’m sure we are all about kids — but I think the way that you did it kind of swings it around to us to where you’re telling us what we’re going to do,” Quillen said. “Basically, you’re pulling the trump cards with kids saying we assumed you’d want to be for kids, and we are for kids, but the whole process just doesn’t ...”

“I’m not saying you’re not for kids,” Vance said “I’m saying the school board believed this was the right thing to do for kids, and the school board wanted to use the school board’s money. They felt like it was appropriate to move forward with it, didn’t believe that this would be a problem at all.”

Jenkins said he thought the BOE was partially adhering to commission’s previous admonishments.

“We have for years told these people to spend their own money on their own projects,” Jenkins said. “And here they are trying to do that. Now shame on you for doing it too early, but at the same time, (the BOE has) somewhat attempted to do what we’ve asked of them.”

Blair said based on correspondence with the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service, the amendment still has to come before commission after being passed by the BOE, but the BOE is authorized to transfer the money from the school fund balance to capital projects with or without commission’s approval. Blair said if commission doesn’t approve the amendment, she would have to contact the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury because she will be posting an amendment commission didn’t OK.

“So all this argument we’re having is for nothing?” Jenkins said.

Miller said a previous Tennessee Attorney General opinion also confirmed the BOE’s authority to use the money.

“I guess we can rubber stamp it, but we don’t have to,” Miller said. “They can go ahead on their own authority; they’ve got the authority to do that.”

Previous motions were rescinded, and Miller made a new motion to take the $500,000 and $90,000 amendments to the capital and budget committees. The measure failed by a 5-5 vote, with Maples, Jenkins and Commissioners Sharon Yarbrough, Harold Duff and David Meers dissenting.

Harrelson then made a motion to approve Fund 141, which included all amendments. The vote passed 7-3, with Bledsoe, Miller and Maples voting no.

In other business, the board:

l Approved establishing a victim’s assistance assessment program through Court Appointed Special Advocates to provide court litigation fees to the organization.

l Set the default speed limit in the county at 35 mph where the speed is not otherwise posted.

l Approved an agreement with the Tellico Village Property Owners Association to move forward with a greenway construction project along Highway 444 in the Village. The POA is expected to provide $20,000 in funding, with the remainder coming from a Surface Transportation Program grant. The total cost of the project is about $100,000.

l Approved an annual grant of $421,900 with no matching funds for wages and benefits for Loudon County Health Department employees.

l Approved a $12,500 grant from the Department of Homeland Security with no matching funds.