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John Thompson

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Board makes new pitch for projects plan

October 20th, 2011 9:19 pm by John Thompson

Board makes new pitch for projects plan

ELIZABETHTON — Hopes to build a new football stadium and athletic complex at Ellizabethton High School are still alive and could be realized at an upcoming meeting of the Elizabethton City Council.
The Elizabethton City School Board voted 3-2 on Thursday night to approve a plan that would reroute future proceeds of the half-cent local option sales tax referendum revenue back to the city debt service rather than the school system budget. The motion was contingent on the city paying for the stadium and other new capital projects at T.A. Dugger. Catherine Armstrong and Connie Baker voted against the proposal.
Prior to the vote, Elizabethton City Schools Superintendent Ed Alexander gave a report on a new funding plan for the athletic complex, an eight-classroom addition to T.A. Dugger Jr. HIgh School and bringing that school into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Superintendent Alexander told the board it was not his plan. He said Mayor Curt Alexander had approached him with the concept.
The idea is to borrow $7.5 million, which the city would pay back through its debt service. In return for the city’s financial commitment, the school system would cede to the city the remaining seven years’ revenue from the half-cent sales tax. That money had previously been guaranteed to the school system at the time the citizens had approved the tax increase in a referendum.
The half-cent sales tax currently brings in about $660,000 annually, but only about $100,000 of that is not committed to paying back a $6.75-million bond. That excess money would be used to pay the new $7.5-million debt. At first, the excess money would only amount to about 18 percent of the bond payment each year, but by 2018-19, the excess should reach $220,000 and cover about 40 percent of the bond payment that year. By 2023-24, it should cover more than half the annual payment.
Armstrong said she was against the plan because she said the payback on the capital projects would raise the property tax rate by 19 cents. Since the city just raised property taxes by 25 cents, and raised water and garbage collection rates, she believed many citizens on fixed incomes couldn’t afford another 19 cents.
Armstrong said she could not go along with a proposal that would affect taxpayers.
Board Chairman Matt Cooter said anything the board did had an impact on taxpayers. Cooter went on to say the city’s annual funding for the school system has remained flat (at $2,332,000) for the last 10 years. He said inflation has decreased the value of those funds by $400,000.
Superintendent Alexander asked her if she couldn’t support an increase which would benefit the children.
Baker said she could not support the proposal after a recent seminar for school board members in which she learned it was best to take some time before going back to city council after it had rejected a plan. She pointed out that the council had already failed to take action on the stadium twice.
Kim Birchfield, who also attended the seminar, said he remembered another point — even if some board members were opposed to something the board decided, all members came together in united support after the decision was reached.
In other matters, Baker announced a resolution had been reached with the administration over the use of the central office after hours and on weekends by a community organization she directs. The group provides after school tutoring and tax counseling during the tax season.
Baker said the after school programs would reopen Thursday.
“I am very grateful for that,” Baker said.
The board also voted unanimously to amend Alexander’s contract to give him the same 1.6 percent pay increase that other teachers received from the state. The increase amounts to less than $1,400 a year.

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