Commissioners to hear details of K-8 school contract

Robert Houk • Sep 26, 2019 at 9:01 PM

Washington County commissioners will meet with their attorneys in a workshop on Tuesday to hear details of the proposed lease-to-own deal with Jonesborough to construct a new K-8 school and sports complex.

The meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. in the George Jaynes Justice Center, was called by Commission Chairman Greg Matherly at the direction of his colleagues.

Commissioners decided to hold a special meeting to review the specifics of the lease arrangement after voting 13-0 (with one member absent and another recusing himself) on Monday to approve the first-of-its-kind $32 million school building project in concept.

Matherly said he and his colleagues will hear from attorneys with the Baker Donelson, the law firm the county has hired to help it navigate the legalities of the lease arrangement. He said commissioners will also hear the particulars of the contract, as well as financing options and other matters pertaining to the project.

He said the goal of the workshop is for commissioners to obtain the information they need to vote on an actual lease contract with the town of Jonesborough at a special meeting before an Oct. 17 deadline set by the board earlier this week.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler, who as Jonesborough’s town attorney abstained from casting a vote on the deal, told commissioners an agreement on the lease needs to be reached before Oct. 15 in order to lock in favorable bond financing for the construction project. Otherwise, he said the deal might not be “financially doable” for the county under its current options.

Mitch Meredith, Washington County’s finance and administration director, said the county would be able to make the estimated $2.5 million annual lease payments over a 20-year period without a property tax increase under the financing agreement the town has proposed.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy told commissioners Monday the proposed lease-to-own deal with Jonesborough is “very complex in how it is structured,” and noted that there is not another school construction agreement like it in Tennessee. He said the county’s legal counsel believes the lease-to-own deal with the town can withstand a legal challenge, but added “there are some risks.”

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest also told commissioners there is some “urgency” in hammering out the details of the contract. He said said it was “going to take trust” for the town, county Board of Education and County Commission to come together on a “clean contract” for the project.

Even so, Commissioner Phil Carriger told his colleagues the “devil was it the details.” He said said the commissioners have an “obligation to help all schoolchildren” in Washington County. 

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