THE HUNTER REPORT
Thumbs down – Funding School Building Program
Mayor’s race heats up (Video Clip)
By: Pat Hunter
Dec. 9, 2009
Commissioners vote down exploring funding options for school building program; absurdity prevailed!
Absent at Monday’s Dec. 7th commission meeting was D-7 Commissioner Don Miller and D-5 Comm. Chris Park. During approval of the agenda, Comm. Austin Shaver said that he had contacted Phyllis with the county court clerk’s office the previous Monday. Comm. Shaver requested adding an agenda item - Discussion of the school building program funding. His request was approved by Commission.
Comm. Shaver had brought up the school building program and various funding scenarios at the Nov. 16 workshop meeting. Commissioners Park and Nancy Marcus did not attend the workshop meeting.
Before the commission meeting adjourned, Comm. Shaver shared his motion and reasons.
He said that would ask that the county finance director seek the best available rates, debt service requirements, etc for the school building program for a range of possibilities seeking what those rates and debt service for a $30 - $50 million range. It would almost be like taking the financing side to bid, take it to all reputable lenders and find out the best rates and deals.
Shaver gave his reasons; first, at the November 12th BOE meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to ask Commission for numbers so they would know how much money would be available for the school building program. Secondly, his motion would not lock in pennies or rates. (NOTE: BOE Nov. 12, 2009 Draft Minutes)
He wanted the school board to have an idea of what they would be working with when they take school building plans to bid that they would know their range of funding.
Commissioner Shaver thought that this was wise financial planning. The other proposal argued by Commissioner Don Miller at the workshop meeting, was for Commission to go out to bids on the school building program at an estimated cost of $1.5 Million.
Comm. David Meers & Comm. Marcus, Architect Don Shell
Where are we? What are the best steps to get there?
Comm. Shaver wanted to recognize Don Shell, CEO of Community Tectonics. Shell is one of the architect firms selected by the school board to do school building drawings. He gave an update to Commission on the status of the school building plan. Shell had attended last week’s school board workshop meeting. School board members discussed the building committee’s recommendations, which the school board is supposed to vote on at Thursday’s BOE meeting.
Shell gave his perspective about the status of the school building projects. The School Board had asked that his firm do preliminary design and development on three projects and another architect firm is doing the 4th project. The cost of that was $1 million.
Shell worked with a construction manager and both came up with best cost estimates in the range of $45 - $47 Million for all four school projects. There is a desire to move forward with the building program with something depending on how much money is available. Commission has yet to make a decision on what amount they will fund.
Shell had spoken with the School Board and building committee. There has never been a better time in history that’s any better to bid projects than right now so there is a sense of urgency commented Shell.
Should we go ahead and bid the projects without a number of what we might be able to spend on the projects? Should we go ahead and bid the projects without a number? If Commission is going to bid the project and fund the full amount, the building plan could move forward. If you bid the project with the understanding that we think that its going to be $42 Million or hoping that it’s going to be $25 million, than that might be a mistake explained Shell. The school board could move to the “construction document phase” where the documents are prepared for bidding and this information is sent to the State Fire Marshall’s office for review and approval. This process could take between 4-6 months lag time. There are issues with bidding out the building projects and then not having adequate funding and having to start over at another time. There are ethical or fiscal problems because of the bidding process. It would not be good stewardship of time and advice to the school board. We do not know what the economy will be in 4-6 months.
Architect Don's Shell's professional advise appeared to fall upon the deaf ears of five commissioners!
Comm. D-5 Harold Duff, Loudon D-1 Comm. David Meers & Comm. Nancy Marcus
Duff & Meers, Budget Committee
Commissioners don’t seem to know what’s going on!
Commissioner David Meers commented that he wanted to have a meeting with the architect after the new year. I understand education and the education process, said Meers. “What are we voting for” and what’s the logic behind this, Meers asked. “What are we doing with Greenback School?” What would happen to Greenback School once it’s abandoned, he asked. There is some good classroom space there, Meers explained.
Commissioner Austin Shaver’s motion was to ask the finance director to seek the best available rates and debt service schedule for the funding of the school building program for a range of possibilities, understanding that rates can change. To find out so we can begin to give the school board an approximation of the total amount of funding that they can expect before they spend any more money on the building program so all the money spent is actually used. Commissioner Maples seconded his motion.
Mayor Doyle Arp asked to make a statement; I would like for him (Comm. Shaver) not to direct Tracy (Finance Director) to do that because that’s actually Leo’s (Purchasing Director) job. We’re glad to work with any commissioner. According to Arp, this was brought up 6-months ago and Comm. Shaver was informed that the mayor’s office would work with him. “I stand for Loudon County” commented Mayor Arp.
Commissioner Nancy Marcus asked, isn’t this what Commissioner Miller did with the finance director. Marcus wanted to know what projects would be done before she gives the school board money. Her spouse Bill Marcus is a member of the school board Loudon District 1.
We’ll be glad to spin our wheels and get all this information for you. You’re asking lending institutions to do a lot of work countered Mayor Arp. We can tell you how much money you’ve got to and it’s not $30 Million. You can spend $100 Million but you better be ready to raise the rate (property tax) but remember you got to pay it back. The mayor referred to the county’s outstanding school debt and repayment, which limits how much money, may be borrowed. Three years later we are still at an impasse remarked Mayor Arp.
Comm. Shaver clarified his comments; it would take a minimal amount of time for the finance director or purchasing director to find out the necessary information. The plan that I brought to Commission is designed from our perspective, how much can we afford to give the school board without raising taxes but lending institutions can give us an idea of rates. The school board has asked for a number.
Comm. Harold Duff said that he had pledged his support to the school board for many years but he felt that this school board has not presented the needs and he would oppose and vote no.
Mayor Arp reminded Comm. Austin Shaver that if he had brought this to the budget committee this problem would have been solved. Mayor Arp accused Comm. Shaver of circumventing the process and grabbing headlines for him and his dad (school board member Van Shaver). He runs to the newspaper and get big headlines and his Dad runs to the newspaper and gets big headline. Van Shaver is seeking the county mayor’s job.
The Mayor offered some advice. Everyone of you running next year. Don't do what's normal. Run to the newspaper and get you some headlines and then run down here and make your motion remarked Mayor Doyle Arp.
Ms. Youngblood (l) Roy Bledsoe, Bob Franke, Austin Shaver, Earlena Maples, David Meers, Nancy Marcus (l)
Gardin (l) Harold Duff (r)
After a very lengthy discussion here's how the vote went down:
Voting No: Commissioners: Nancy Marcus D-1, David Meers D-1, Harold Duff D-5, Wayne Gardin D-6 and Chairman Roy Bledsoe D-4.
Voting Yes: Commissioners: Austin Shaver (D-2), Earlena Maples (D-2) and Bob Franke (D-3).
Absent: Commissioners: Chris Park (D-5) and Don Miller (D-7).
The motion failed.