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Washington County set to vote on deal with city schools

Robert Houk • Feb 13, 2020 at 8:00 AM

The Washington County Commission will vote Feb. 24 on an inter-local agreement calling for the county to allocate $500,000 annually over a 25-year period to help cover the building needs of Johnson City Schools.

The $12.5 million agreement received unanimous approval from the county’s  Budget Committee on Wednesday. Johnson City commissioners are expected to vote on the matter March 5.

The deal comes as a result of a resolution passed by the commission in October instructing County Mayor Joe Grandy to negotiate an agreement with the city of 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. There has been concern that the city might sue the county to recoup education funds that it would typically share with municipal coffers through the traditional school construction process.

City Manager Pete Peterson said the inter-local agreement requires Washington County’s annual allocation to go directly to the city’s coffers for its school capital projects. He said the agreement mandates those funds can’t be used for operational or maintenance needs.

The city manager told the Budget Committee it’s “the intent of the city” that the Johnson City Board of Education be bound by the agreement. He noted the Johnson City Charter “is clear” that the city government owns its school buildings.

Peterson said a ruling handed down in Chancery Court more than a decade ago affirms that the city’s department of education is under Johnson City government.

County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson also told Budget Committee members the inter-local agreement states that the Johnson City school district “does not have the authority to bring a lawsuit independently.”

In other business Wednesday:

• Budget Committee members voiced frustration at learning the county Election Commission will be holding Election Day voting at the Washington County Courthouse instead of a former hardware store building it has leased in Jonesborough.

County commissioners voted 9-5  last month to approve a request from election officials to lease the former Ace hardware store at 220 N. 2nd Ave., Jonesborough, as a voting site. With the action, commissioners agreed to pay $77,500 to cover the one-year lease of the building.

Grandy told committee members he has since learned that the Election Commission will be using the hardware building as one of three sites for early voting for the March 3 primary election, which began Wednesday. He said actual Election Day polling will be held at its traditional location in the historic courthouse.

The mayor said precinct lines currently drawn for the Jonesborough voting precinct prevents the Election Commission from using the Ace building on Election Day.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler said he was “disappointed’ that commissioners were not told that would be the case when they approved the lease. 

“I’m not sure what troubles me more,“ said Commissioner Freddie Malone, who voted against the lease in January. “The fact that it was known and not shared with us, or that they didn’t know about it.”

• The committee voted to replace the gymnasium roof at Daniel Boone High School. The cost of the project is stipulated not to exceed $400,000.

Phillip Patrick, maintenance supervisor of Washington County Schools, said the current roof is leaking badly, which is why efforts are being taken to protect the gym floor from heavy rains that have saturated the region in recent weeks.

Patrick said the rest of the high school’s roof is also in need of replacement. Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said last month the cost to completely re-roof Daniel Boone school is estimated to be $2.6 million.

The project has been included in a list of top school capital projects compiled by the county’s Board of Education. 

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