Finance panel approves school safety locks


Funding for school safety was part of the discussion when the Bradley County Commission’s Finance Committee met on Thursday to go over the 2018-2019 budget. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis presented his budget proposal to the Commission last week.

The committee recommended approval of $250,000 for so-called Columbine locks for the Bradley County Schools’ facility doors. The issue has been discussed at length for several weeks, with questions centering around whether Bradley County will pay for them or if school safety and security funding from the state will pay for them.

During Thursday’s budget meeting, Davis suggested if the committee wants to address the locks they could be paid for using cash from Other Capital Projects funds.

“I think this is setting a horrible precedent,” Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake said of paying for school projects out of the county’s capital projects funds.

Davis said the fund is where money is coming from to pay for the PIE Center, to which Blake said “I know what’s really going on here.”

After a moment of silence, Commissioner Charlotte Peak asked what is “really going on.”

Blake said by paying cash for this educational safety project, Bradley County won’t have to “cut a check” for the city of Cleveland for similar funding.

“Basically, it’s so you don’t have to pay the city,” Blake said.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said he understands Blake’s position, but  he would prefer to pay with cash “and get a discount.”

“I don’t think we have an obligation to … pay the city,” Commissioner Thomas Crye said. “This is a mechanism to save the residents of Bradley County money.”

Peak said she sees the issue of purchasing and installing door locks as a maintenance and repair issue. She is OK with it.

Rawls added he doesn’t believe Blake “hates children” by opposing paying for the door locks from capital projects funds.

Blake said his district has both county and city residents, as do a few other districts. He agrees paying cash for the Columbine locks saves money, “but (city residents are) paying taxes and we’re getting nothing for it.”

Blake estimated 33,000 Bradley County residents with children in city schools won’t get a benefit from these capital projects funds being used to buy equipment for county schools.

Crye countered Bradley County Schools gets no city sales tax so he has no sympathy in the situation and sees no need to assume debt in order to give the city money.

“This is a dangerous precedent,” Blake said, adding he hopes the county doesn’t go forward “like this” with all its educational projects.

Davis said the Other Capital Projects funding is available for this purpose. He also referred to another county “across the river” that used capital projects funds for school improvement projects.

According to reports published in The Daily Post-Athenian, both the Athens City and Etowah City school systems filed a lawsuit against McMinn County for their “proper share of tax money” coming from property taxes. The suit centered around money both school systems claim they should have received for capital improvements prior to Dec. 11, 2009. The suit was originally filed in July 2011.

A few months later, in September 2011, McMinn County’s response to the lawsuit stated the school systems lost their right to stake claims to money they said they were owed due to the one-year statute of limitations.

At the time, the city school systems claimed McMinn County had spent $10,985,305 for capital improvements for county schools, but none of those funds were shared with either Athens City Schools or Etowah City School. They asked for a total of $3 million in the lawsuit.

In response to the city schools’ appeal, in November 2013 McMinn County Circuit Court Judge Larry Puckett ruled in favor of McMinn County, stating in his opinion that Tennessee law only requires the county to prorate school funds for current operation and maintenance purposes. Since capital outlay funds provide for future projects, they don’t fall under the current operation and maintenance requirement of the law, according to the court opinion.

In February 2015, the Athens City School Board voted to appeal, filing suit with the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the case after both Circuit Court Judge Larry Puckett and the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in the county’s favor on the case, which sought a legal opinion to answer the question of whether capital outlay funds from the county fall under the same rules of apportionment to school systems as those in the general purpose school fund.

The Tennessee Supreme Court filed a decision on May 14 denying the municipal schools boards’ appeal and effectively ending the suit.

During Thursday’s meeting, Blake said he never said it was illegal to use capital projects funds to pay for the Columbine locks. “I was going through the right and wrong.”

Rawls said the commissioners are all entitled to different opinions and positions.

“I still see this as (repair, like) changing light bulbs and maintenance,” Peak said.

Committee members voted 3-2 to use $250,000 in Other Capital Projects. Commissioners Crye, Rawls and Mike Hughes voted in favor of the measure, with Blake and Peak voting against it.

In other business the Finance Committee:

• Approved a motion to reserve funds raised through a penny added to the per-gallon cost of gas purchased by county departments from the gas tanks at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. The penny-per-gallon was approved earlier this year.

Bradley County Finance Director Rena’ Samples said she needs a resolution regarding reserving those funds up to $5,000. The fund has not reached $5,000 yet, she added.

“I think this is probably the best compromise to have this reserve fund,” Blake said, adding it will help deal with maintenance issues that may arise at the pump.

The motion for a resolution to set up the reserve fund was approved with Crye casting the lone “no” vote.

Samples said the resolution will need to be voted on June 18.

Cassandra Stone, the BCSO’s budget and finance coordinator, said the fund is currently “a few hundred dollars” and the last gas pump repair not covered by the contract cost $2,500-$3,000.

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