Washington County to vote again on school funding deal with the city

Robert Houk • Apr 27, 2020 at 9:05 AM

Washington County commissioners will vote again tonight on a $12.5 million inter-local agreement to allocate $500,000 annually over a 25-year period to help the city of Johnson City with its school capital needs.

County officials originally approved the deal by a 10-4-1 vote on Feb. 24, with Commissioners Steven Light, Kent Harris, Danny Edens and Mike Ford voting “no” on the resolution. Commissioner Robbie Tester abstained from voting on the issue.

The do-over comes after Johnson City commissioners postponed a vote to accept the school funding arrangement at its meeting on March 12. City officials said key documents were either mislabeled or missing from their version of the agreement. 

“Rather than risk someone challenging this later as to the legality of the process, we — being the city and the county — need to be sure that we’ve done this legally and properly so that we can do what’s in the best interest of the citizens we work for,” City Manager Pete Peterson said after the vote was delayed.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, who negotiated the school funding deal with Peterson, said Johnson City “wanted to vote on a clean version” of the agreement, one without the “draft” watermarks and with the proper exhibits attached.

“We’ve gone back to try to make it perfect,” Grandy said. 

The inter-local agreement is tied to a lease-purchase deal county commissioners have signed with the town of Jonesborough to build a new $32.75 million K-8 county school and sports complex. There had been concern that Johnson City might sue the county to recoup education funds that it would typically share with municipal coffers through the traditional school construction process.

Such litigation by the city or Johnson City Board of Education related to the Jonesborough school project is prohibited under the terms of the inter-local agreement.

The school capital payments to Johnson City will not begin until the county occupies the new Jonesborough K-8 school, which is expected to be in 2023. Money for the payments and the annual lease for the Jonesborough school is included in the county’s current capital investment plan.

The deal requires Washington County’s annual allocation to go directly to the city’s coffers for its school capital projects. The agreement mandates those funds can’t be used for operational or maintenance needs.

The agreement specifies the following city school construction projects:

• Design and construction of eight additional classrooms to Woodland Elementary School, at an estimated cost of $6 million.

• Design and construction of a new four-classroom wing to the second floor of South Side Elementary School, at an estimated cost of $1.721 million.

• Design and construction of eight new classrooms added to the west side Lake Ridge Elementary School at an estimated cost of $4.7 million.

• Design and construction of a new 125,000-square-foot building to replace the existing Towne Acres Elementary School.

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