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County Commission addresses school board communication

Madison Mathews • Nov 26, 2012 at 10:45 PM

Washington County commissioners addressed concerns Monday over a lack of communication between the Commission and the Washington County Board of Education when it came to new projects that weren’t included in this year’s budget.

Commissioners voted to table a resolution to approve the reallocation of $447,228 from a reserve line item in the system’s budget to expenditure line items for capital expenditures, including $46,228 for transportation equipment, $66,500 in architectural fees, $4,500 for consulting fees, and $330,000 for building improvements.

The last expense includes $200,000 for a new roof at Fall Branch Elementary School and $130,000 to replace cooling towers at Boones Creek Elementary School.

Several commissioners took the school board to task over the replacement roof at Fall Branch, since it was an expense that was not budgeted out.

“I’d like to ask the school board when can we expect an answer from the school board about this capital expense and I’d like to say what a breakdown of communication that has happened with the taxpayers of this county,” commissioner Roger Nave said.

Nave continued by saying the commission deserved an explanation regarding the school board’s request.

Director of Schools Ron Dykes was not in attendance at the meeting.

Several Washington County Board of Education members were in the audience, including Chairman Clarence Mabe, Vice Chairman Chad Williams, Keith Ervin and David Hammond.

“Was you not told in June that we needed a roof at Fall Branch?” asked Ervin.

Commissioner Ethan Flynn then asked school board members why the school board didn’t budget the expense when they knew they needed to have the roof replaced.

Hammond spoke up and told commissioners that the school board wasn’t looking for capital projects to add to their slate, but replacing the roof was a necessity.

A new roof at Fall Branch Elementary had been discussed during the budgeting process, but it had been decided that a new roof could be delayed for a couple of years, according to Mayor Dan Eldridge.

Over the summer, the roof sustained additional damage during the storms and the school board made a decision to go ahead and have it replaced.

“I’m sorry that we had a breakdown in communication but I didn’t think that we needed permission to do a common sense project for the better of our students and teachers, and I apologize for any breakdown in communication,” Hammond said.

The surprise over the cost of a new roof comes on the heels of the school board ordering six large school buses, two pickup trucks and van at a cost of $638,000 — another unbudgeted expense.

Flynn said the real issue comes down to following process and budgeting out expenses that are needed so the commission can figure out how to fund such requests.

“People don’t want to invest when people make decisions like this. The taxpayers don’t have a choice. We have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers,” he said.

With the resolution tabled, commissioners will pick up the discussion next month.

Commissioners passed a resolution declaring their intent to reimburse itself for certain expenditures relating to public works projects with bonds or other debt obligations not to exceed $815,000.

Eldridge said the resolution essentially reserves this option if at some point within the next 18 months they decide the reimburse the school system for capital projects.

The $815,000 covers the system’s capital projects, plus Johnson City’s share of the funds.

“This is simply a step for this commission to take to reserve options up to 18 months from now to be able to offer more debt in order to reimburse the school system,” Eldridge said.

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