Petition calls for Loudon County Commission to fund school building program

Hugh G. Willett

A Greenback grandmother is taking her battle to replace the community's aging school to the next level with a petition that asks the tough question of how to pay for new facilities.

Terri Johnson first began appearing at Loudon County Commission and school board meetings a couple of months ago. The feisty grandma has taken County Commission to task more than once for failing to fund the school building program.

At a commission meeting last week, Johnson urged commissioners to "use the brain God gave you."

Other exchanges between Johnson and commissioners have been more pointed, including the time Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp threatened to cut her off at the microphone.

Now Johnson is circulating a petition that not only asks commission to fund the school building program but also asks residents to support a property tax increase.

"The petition is hanging in the Greenback pharmacy," she said.

Johnson said she is concerned that most of the seven commissioners who voted against funding the school building plan last week did so because they believed the county would have to raise property taxes to fund the effort.

"I want to find out just how many citizens would support a property tax increase to build new schools," she said.

Johnson said she will take her petition to athletic events in Greenback, but she also plans to knock on doors "on the other side of the river" in Loudon County.

"So far, most of the people I've talked with say they would support a property tax increase," Johnson said.

There also is a plan from Commissioner Austin Shaver to fund phase one of the building plan without a tax increase, she said.

Both Shaver and Greenback Commissioner Bob Franke said they would support a property tax increase if necessary.

"The property tax increase should not be a reason to not do what's right for our kids," Johnson said. "If it's what we have to do, it's what we have to do."

Pat Hunter, a longtime activist and current candidate for one of two 5th District seats on County Commission, said she has used petitions in the past and they have worked.

"We delivered a petition about air quality to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation with 1,200 signatures of people demanding action," Hunter said.

TDEC responded by increasing the number of air quality monitoring stations and conducted a health assessment of the county, Hunter said.

The health assessment showed Loudon County had the highest cancer rate of any county in the state, she said.