Plans Converge

In a sudden reversal of position, Commissioner Don Miller is now purposing a plan to pay for the school board building program which closely mirrors the same plan Commissioner Austin Shaver has been advocating. The only difference between the two plans now is the amount of money that could be made available for the building plan. Miller had previously maintained that a tax increase would be needed. Miller also informed the BOE during their retreat Friday that he didn't expect there to be any property tax increase this year.

Shaver has maintained that up to 30-35 million could be made available without a property tax increase or negatively impacting the commission's reserve funds. Miller's new proposal would make about 20 million available for the building plan with no tax increase.

Commissioner's are expected to take some action at Monday's commission meeting which will allow the board to take another step forward in the building process.

New taxes nixed: Miller suggests $20 million to start school building program
Greg Wilkerson News Herald

County Commissioner Don Miller brought a revised plan to begin funding new school buildings to the School Board Friday requiring no new property taxes.

Miller’s previous plan discussed by members of the commission and school board called for a 24.5 cent increase in property taxes to pay for school improvements. 

Though different in some areas, it is similar to a plan presented on several occasions by fellow commissioner Austin Shaver that also calls for money to be found for the school building project without raising taxes. “I’m pretty much convinced that no one on the commission will vote for a tax increase this year,” Miller said to the school board members during their retreat.

The main difference between the Miller plan and the Shaver plan is the amount of money that the county can provide without raising taxes. Miller’s bottom line is close to $20 million, while Shaver’s would provide close to $30 million for new schools to be built.

“This is clearly a short-term solution, but I think we can live with it for a few years,” Miller said.

Miller’s initial plan, which included a tax increase, was based on a rough estimate of more than $47 million needed to fund a new Greenback School, a new middle school, a combined Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle School and a new cafeteria at Philadelphia.

Shaver’s $30 million funding plan was based on figuring out how much money could be provided to the school board so the board could decide what to build and how it should be spent. 

Everyone agreed the $47 million figure was not firm, and until the work is done that will set exactly what needs to be built — and where and when — it is difficult to know how much money will actually be needed.

Discussions during the meeting indicated it will take a little more than $2 million and nine to ten months of work before the projects will be in a position to be bid and actual costs established.

The discussion also included an alternative amount of about $500,000 and a few months to get substantially better numbers, though not figures that could be used to start the bidding process.

Board member Craig Simon said once funding is granted by the County Commission — however much that is — he felt they should spend the $2 million and move on with the project.

Miller said he plans to present his new proposal to the commission Monday night. 

Both Miller and Shaver’s plans call for using some of the school operating budget and county general funds in addition to the rural debt fund.

That fund was established some years ago to begin saving for school building projects, according to Wayne Honeycutt, superintendent. 

Another key difference is the bond terms. Miller’s plan is based on 20 years, while Shaver’s is based on 30. Miller said in today’s market it is more difficult to get a 30 year bond, though what’s available may change when the day comes.