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Sullivan school board in search of recreation, renovation funds

Rick Wagner • Jul 16, 2018 at 7:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Hey, Larry Bailey and Richard Venable, here’s our proposed 2018-19 Sullivan County school budget.

But where’s our $1.1 million for public recreational use of our facilities?

And by the way, are you really taking our $1.6 million in renovation money this year?

Aside from the decision to delay the vote on accepting the low bid for construction of West Ridge High School until Aug. 1, that was part of the budget portion of the called school board meeting Thursday night.

The Board of Education voted 7-0 to send the recommended 2018-19 budget to the County Commission, minus the part where the school board plans to use $4.8 million in fund balance to pay for the outdoor athletic facilities at the new school since bond funds won’t cover everything.

“I was informed the check would be written at the appropriate time,” school system Business Manager Ingrid DeLoach told the BOE when asked about the $1.1 million. She said county Accounts and Budgets Director Bailey, who could not be reached for comment Friday, told her that. She also said the money is needed for the school system to meet maintenance of effort (MOE) and avoid having its Tennessee funding halted.

“The ($1.1 million in) money we gave them will be forthcoming,” Sullivan County Mayor Venable said Friday. “It’s a cash-flow item.”

WHY WAIT UNTIL AUG. 1 FOR BID VOTE?

However, Venable also said he would advise the school board not to wait until Aug. 1 to vote on the high school contract since the commission at some point will have to approve or disapprove the use of $4.8 million in fund balance for athletic facilities and probably would like to consider the budget as a whole, including how the fund balance is used.

“I would hope they wouldn’t wait that late to vote,” Venable said, suggesting a called meeting might be in order despite the BOE’s decision to table the vote last week following a motion by board member Mark Ireson.

“It’s up to them,” Venable said. “But the sooner the better.” 

Meanwhile, DeLoach said a report supplying information making sure the MOE is met is due Aug. 1.

“In my eyes, I think anytime before June 30 was appropriate,” DeLoach said.

She also said county officials are awaiting the school system’s budget proposal and have been calling about it frequently.

Venable said the renovation funds are not covered by MOE, and board Chairman Michael Hughes agreed. However, Venable also said he doesn’t believe the recreation money is subject to MOE either, although Hughes, DeLoach and other county and school officials said they believe it is.

WHY $1.1 MILLION?

The County Commission in the 2017-18 budget, in funding the $140 million school bond for the county, Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City schools, reduced the general purpose school money that is split among the county and city school systems. However, to hold the county system mostly harmless, the commission increased an annual parks and leisure payment that helps offset the cost of the public using school facilities for non-school activities, since those facilities are the de facto parks and recreation centers in many areas.

The payment went from $300,000 to $1.1 million, although the county system still ended up losing about $119,000. The Kingsport and Bristol school systems, however, lost about $1.8 million and $1 million respectively, and officials of those two systems have been openly hostile about the change. In Kingsport, the shortfall left the city with no choice but to meet MOE by giving an extra $644,000 to the city system because the state treats local MOE as one pot of money, whether it comes from a county or a county and city.

WHAT ABOUT THE $1.6 MILLION?

As part of the funding mechanism for the bond, albeit one of which school board Chairman Michael Hughes said the BOE was unaware, documents indicate that the county plans on, among other things, taking the entire $1.6 million renovation fund from the school system to help repay the bonds.

Venable said the Budget Committee has not considered the school budget but that it was fair to assume the commission would take renovation funds to help with the bond repayments for the new schools, although Hughes said that was not known to him and the board until after a fax from Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams in November.

“We haven’t said that,” Venable said, although the fax indicates the $1.6 million would be earmarked for bond repayment. He predicted the commission would not dip into sales tax revenues to repay the school bond.

That would mean $1.058 million worth of proposed projects would not be funded. They include various roof repairs ($200,000), Emmett Elementary LED lighting ($140,000), Sullivan South High Little Theatre renovations ($120,000), “various fire marshal-required improvements” ($12,000), replacement of the gym floor at Rock Springs Elementary ($46,000) and “various security improvements” ($80,000).

Opponents of the new high school in the audience at Thursday’s meeting said they couldn’t understand how the county could build two schools without renovation and maintenance money in the budget for any schools.

 

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