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Washington County reaches deal with city on school funding

Robert Houk • Feb 6, 2020 at 8:38 PM

Washington County has reached a $12.5 million deal with the city of Johnson City on capital funding for school construction.

The county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee approved an inter-local agreement Thursday calling on the county to allocate $500,000 annually over a 25-year period to help cover the building needs of city schools. The agreement will be heard by the county’s Budget Committee on Wednesday.

The deal comes as a result of a resolution passed by the Washington County Commission in October instructing County Mayor Joe Grandy to negotiate an agreement with Johnson City to help it meet its school capital needs.

That mandate came on the same night that commissioners voted to approve a lease-purchase deal with the town of Jonesborough to build a new $32.75 million K-8 county school and sports complex

City Manager Pete Peterson said the exact amount of the deal was never an issue during the three months that he and Grandy have worked on the negotiations. Instead, Peterson said it was navigating the “finer points” of Tennessee law that occupied most of the talks.

The city manager told committee members that was one of the reasons both sides “lawyered up.”

Grandy agreed, telling commissioners “it was challenging to get through all those fine points.” In the end, Grandy said, both sides have reached an agreement that should stand the test of time.

“It’s a legal document that defines what we will do for decades to come,” he said.

Peterson said the inter-local agreement requires the county’s annual allocation go to the city for its school capital projects. Those funds can’t be used for operation or maintenance needs.

He said those funds will come in handy as city schools have three elementary school projects now in the design phase that combined are estimated to cost between $10 million to $12 million.

County Commissioner Jodi Jones said she felt “really gratified” the county was able to help Johnson City meet its school capital needs. Jones said that while she was “conflicted” that the inter-local agreement is tied to the outcome of the Jonesborough school project, she nonetheless believes it is a “really good first step” in dealing with the school funding issue.

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