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Local News

Adviser urges countywide bond for Sullivan school projects

May 5th, 2012 10:08 pm by Rick Wagner

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school officials soon may be trying to sell the idea of a bond issue to county commissioners and offering to take them on a tour of schools across the county.

Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said that he and Business Manager Leslie Bonner recently met with a financial consultant and adviser who said now is the time to borrow money for capital projects, and using a countywide bond rather than a “rural” bond is probably a wiser choice.

The Sullivan County Board of Education has gone on record supporting the concept of building a new middle school in the Sullivan East High School zone at a cost of about $25 million.

However, some have suggested using the rural bonds because they would only affect the property tax rate of residents outside the city limits at the time the bonds are issued.

Yennie, during a recent BOE budget work session, said the problem is that a rural-only debt would require non-city county property taxes to go up 12 cents per $100 of assessed value to generate $25 million.

In contrast, doing a countywide issue of $50 million — which would provide the county $25 million and Kingsport and Bristol schools a proportional share of the rest based on enrollment — would require only a 9 cent increase.

“You could get more bang for your buck with less of a tax increase,” Yennie said.

Industrial and business property would bear the brunt of a tax rate increase since business and commercial property is taxed at a higher percent of its value than the 25 percent rate on residential property.

Kingsport, Sullivan County and Bristol school systems all have expressed interest in new buildings, particularly middle schools.

BOE member Jerry Greene suggested it was time to offer county commissioners a tour of county schools, both to let them see some of the less-than-ideal physical conditions at some schools as well as to show them state-of-the-art facilities, including the yet-to-be-completed Ketron Elementary in Bloomingdale. Ketron is being renovated into a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school to open in August.

Green said school tours for commissioners were done years ago, but turnover on the commission has resulted in many members who never had a chance to take such a tour.

Greene also suggested the BOE begin considering what it wants to do with closed or soon-to-close schools.

Valley Pike Elementary in the Bristol area closed last year in the Sullivan East High zone, while Kingsley and Cedar Grove elementary schools in the North zone in Bloomingdale are to close at the end of this school year.

Greene said the BOE should offer to tear down the buildings — if the County Commission desires that — with funding from the commission before the BOE turns the school sites back over to the county. Greene said the issue otherwise would be that the schools could stand vacant for years, drawing vagrants and falling into disrepair.

Unlike past closed schools, he said the properties would not revert back to the heirs of donors if they cease being used for educational purposes.

The County Commission could sell the schools or school sites as surplus property, getting it back on the property tax rolls, he said.

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