published Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Bradley County, Tenn., rejects proposed tax increase

Lake Forest Middle School students change classes in the afternoon. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, faculty members said several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather.
Lake Forest Middle School students change classes in the afternoon. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, faculty members said several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A proposed 7.72 cent property tax increase intended to fund a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School received little support from Bradley County commissioners Monday.

The commission voted 11-3 against the measure, with Commissioners Jeff Morelock, Connie Wilson and Robert Rominger casting the yes votes.

“We were elected by voters to make tough decisions, and this is one of the toughest,” said Morelock, who sponsored the proposal. “If we use [projected] growth money for this project, then we will be taking away from other departments in my opinion.”

The proposed tax hike would have amounted to an increase of just under $20 on a home assessed at $100,000 in value, said Morelock.

Morelock asked commissioners who opposed the levy to put forward another solution.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones urged Bradley County Schools to wait until 2016, when the county’s revenueis projected to improve.

Commissioner Adam Lowe said he would rather make a tough decision to cut funding in some places rather than pass a tax increase for Lake Forest Middle School. He recommended that the county be less aggressive on growing its general fund balance and combine unspent animal control funds with the school system’s energy savings expected to result from the renovations.

The Lake Forest renovation has been named as a top priority by the Bradley County Board of Education for a number of years. Plans call for all the campus’ classroom pods, which number more than half of the school’s 17 buildings, to be replaced with a 57-classroom academic building.

Education officials have said the Lake Forest makeover will provide energy savings, improve security and eliminate the need to perform at least $6 million in repairs to the 37-year-old facility. The cost for the school’s overhaul was estimated at $12 million two years ago.

If the commission can agree to a funding plan for the renovations by July 1, 2014, and kick off construction by July 1, 2015, county schools will commit $1 million to the project.

Such a move would reduce the county’s portion by $1.5 million, said Charlie Rose, chairman of the school board. This is because the county must raise $1 for Cleveland City Schools for every $2 it raises for county schools, according to an agreement between the county and city.

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

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