By Dave Ongie, News Editor
The prevailing sentiment during last week’s meeting of the Johnson City Board of Commissioners was that something was better than nothing. With that in mind, the Commission voted unanimously to accept a $12.5 million deal that will provide the city with funds for school capital projects.
While the vote was unanimous, it was far from enthusiastic. Commissioner Larry Calhoun summed up the mood when he said, “This is really not a vote I feel good about.”
Months of study by city attorneys concluded that the city would face long odds if the decision had been made to sue Washington County for approximately $30 million dollars, which the city would be entitled to under state law if the county had financed Jonesborough’s new $32.75 million K-8 school through traditional means.
But by using the Town of Jonesborough as a third-party borrower, the county found a loophole in the law that would have put the city on shaky footing if commissioners had decided to file suit in search of the full amount. The possibility of coming up empty-handed after years of costly litigation compelled the Commission to accept the $12.5 million, which will be paid out in annual $500,000 installments over the next 25 years and help offset future capital projects in the city’s school system.
The City Commission was originally set to vote on the inter-local agreement with the county back on March 11, but the deal was sent back to the Washington County Commission for some small changes. With COVID-19 moving to the forefront, the county commission didn’t pass the updated agreement until Aug. 24.
City Commissioners deferred action on the funding deal until last week in order to give city attorneys a chance to examine possible legal action.