By a unanimous vote, with Nancy Alsup absent, the council voted to initiate the process to issue not more than $6.1 million in general obligation school improvement bonds.
To pay back the bonds, the council would extend the half cent of sales tax dedicated to school capital projects beyond its current 10 years.
Superintendent Ed Alexander said “we would be appreciative of anything you do for us.” He said the commitment from the city would also benefit the school system in raising additional funds from donors.
Commissioner Bob Cable agreed it is easier to raise funds when there are already a sizable commitment.
Alexander said the school board’s priority on capital projects is new classrooms and a science lab at T.A. Dugger. In order to make space for the classroom addition, the home stands at Brown-Childress football stadium would have to be demolished.
The new football stadium is part of the second priority, a new athletic complex on the campus of Elizabethton High School. That complex would also include a regulation-size track that will enable the school to host track meets. The complex will also include a baseball field and softball field.
The third priority is to build a band room for the state championship high school band.
The original resolution for the bond issue was not to exceed $5.125 million. That was based on the average annual collection on the half-cent sales tax coming in at $700,000 and a high of $720,000. City Manager Jerome Kitchens said any amount over that would still go to the school system to pay for smaller capital projects.
Councilman Richard Tester said the economy is showing signs of growing and he said the average annual collection could be figured at $740,000.
Mayor Curt Alexander said it was important not to tie the hands of future school boards and city councils who wanted to fund some other project in the future.
There was also concern expressed that if interest rates or other factors were higher than projected, the cost might exceed $5.125 million. Alexander said the council could always seek less funds in the bond market, but never more than had been advertised. For these reasons, the amount of the projected bond issue was raised to not more than $6.1 million.
Mayor Alexander said it was important to sell the bond issue as a three-part project. He said “$5 million for a football stadium won’t sell.” He said T.A. Dugger must remain the top priority, with the science lab, additional classrooms and handicap access. The importance of a new band room was also emphasized. “We must bring everybody together,” Alexander said.
Board member Catherine Armstrong, who has argued for refurbishing Brown-Childress Stadium instead of building a new football stadium, attended the meeting but did not speak.
With the council giving its assent to go forward with the bond sale, a legal notice will be published, after which opponents may present a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters of Elizabethton in order to stop the bond issue.
In other matters, the council unanimously approved a Tennessee Energy Grant contract with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The grant is for $176,000 and is to be used for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Matching funds will be used that are already committed to plant improvements.