published Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Bradley County to vote on property tax increase to fund Lake Forest overhaul

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock
Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposed 7.72 cent property tax increase intended to fund a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock, sponsor of the proposed tax increase, on Thursday discussed the measure in a phone interview.

“If we are going to build anything soon, [a tax increase] is the only way to get it done in the near future,” he said. “Most of the commissioners have agreed that something needs to be done and we don’t want to spend money on costly repairs.”

A major renovation has been listed as a top priority by the Bradley County Board of Education for a number of years. Plans call for replacement of the campus’ classroom pods — more than half of the school’s 17 buildings — with a central academic building with 57 classroom spaces.

The renovation is intended to head off at least $6 million in costs associated with repairs for the school’s 37-year-old structures, create energy savings and improve security, officials said. Two years ago, the estimated cost for the renovation amounted to $12 million, but that since has increased.

Bradley County Schools made a limited-time offer to contribute $1 million to the capital project this spring in response to a Bradley County Commission request for a financial commitment.

The offer requires that the commission put forth a plan to fund the Lake Forest makeover by July 1, 2014, and that construction should start no later than July 1, 2015.

The measure at least sets a date for action, school board member Nicholas Lillios has said. He said he considered it an improvement over reviewing the matter every three years.

The $1 million commitment will reduce the county’s burden by $1.5 million, said Charlie Rose, chairman of the school board. This is because the county is required to raise $1 for Cleveland City Schools for every $2 it raises for Bradley County Schools, according to an agreement driven by student enrollment in the county and city school systems.

If the county only has to raise $13 million for the Lake Forest project, it will need to raise an additional $6.5 million for Cleveland City Schools.

A number of commissioners favor waiting until 2016 to give serious consideration for funding the Lake Forest overhaul, citing projected growth in revenue streams.

That growth money, Morelock said, likely will be needed for county department growth and a possible merit pay program.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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