ELIZABETHTON — A revised plan to finance a new football stadium at Elizabethton High School and classroom expansion at T.A. Dugger Jr. High School was discussed during a workshop session of the Elizabethton City Council on Friday.
The workshop also heard the first suggestion that an Elizabethton utility board be established in the future. The council made no decisions on either proposal.
Mayor Curt Alexander said he could support the latest proposal on an athletic complex and classroom addition because it would not require an increase in the property tax rate.
What the new proposal would require is a change in the agreement on how many years the half-percent increase in the local option sales tax would be dedicated to school capital projects. When the sales tax increase was approved by a referendum in 2008, it was with the understanding that the first 10 years of the tax increase would go to school capital projects. The new proposal would require the school capital projects to receive all the funding from the sales tax increase through 2033.
Alexander said the proposal would also take advantage of the lower interest rates that are now available to prerefund the outstanding bonds on the original loan to build the first phase of classroom expansions after the sales tax increase referendum was passed. A second bond issue would safely invest proceeds needed to pay off the first bonds into U.S. Treasury securities and similar safe investments. These safe investments would be set to expire when the first bonds come due.
There was not an agreement on how much money should be borrowed in a second bond issue. School officials have recommended $9.9 million, but Mayor Alexander believes a lower amount, such as $5.28 million, should be borrowed in order to maintain school cash reserves for emergencies.
Alexander said the lower amount would require no additional funds from the school board over the 2014-2033 period. If $9.4 million were borrowed, the school system would have an average annual increase of $2,413. At the school recommended $9.9 million, the school system would see an annual average increase of $32,350.
Elizabethton Utilities Director Johann Coetzee introduced the idea of establishing a utilities board and suggested the council meet in a workshop session to discuss the idea.
In a document Coetzee distributed to council members, he said there were two reasons for establishing a utilities board. First, he said utility operations have a business nature that is not reflected in the rest of city government. The second reason was because long-term upkeep and improvement of the utility’s infrastructure require long-term business plans.
He said the utilities board would be an umbrella organization with two divisions: the Elizabethton Electric Department and the Water Resources Division. Those two divisions will be structured the same as they are now.
The public will have more options for customer service locations. The Elizabethton Electric Department complex on Hatcher Lane will be re-established as a customer service location. Customer services at City Hall will remain and will be scaled down over time to address current congestion problems.
Coetzee also went over budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. One recommendation was for a $240,000 expenditure for a borer machine to expedite the laying of new water lines. He said the machine would eliminate much of the need to cut trenches through city streets. He said the savings over such expensive trenching would mean the machine could pay for itself.
The council also discussed city water supply. Coetzee said the city is addressing its water loss problems. On Thursday night one lane of Elk Avenue near the intersection with Holly Lane was closed for the night in order to repair a large leak. The work took all night.
Coetzee said the city’s sanitary survey was 98 percent, showing the water is extremely safe.
As far as water supply, Coetzee said the city is not having any problems now that the drought has passed. In the event of another drought, the city now has the right to purchase half the capacity of the new 2 million gallon per day water plant built by the Watauga River Regional Water Authority. He said the city would like to close the Big Springs Water Plant but that is not possible because it is needed to provide water to a section that cannot be supplied by other city water sources.
On the electric side, EED General Manager Rob Toney said the utility must return to Central Service Association software to process work orders. The city attempted to tie all city departments to a single program two years ago, but the many requirements to obtain data from work orders could not be achieved under the new software. The CSA software could provide the required calculations prior to the changeover.