By Collin Brooks
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge addressed plenty of school matters during his monthly report to the Washington County Commission on Monday night, but he spent the most time on, what he said, was clearing up some inaccuracies being amplified by the Johnson City School Board.
“The Johnson City School Board has been on quite a propaganda campaign in recent weeks,” he said. “And unfortunately much of what is being shared is just factually incorrect. I’m not going to set the record straight here tonight, quite frankly it would just take too long.
“However, I do want you to know that I am preparing a report for you and I hope to present it to you next month. It will address the many remarks that have been made regarding the Johnson City School Board’s claim of not getting their fair share.”
The Washington County Mayor went on to highlight a few points that he said hadn’t received prominent coverage in the local media regarding the city’s concern of not receiving their fair share of a property tax increase by the county.
“I am not sure that this whole issue is so much about fairness or even about the money. Remember Johnson City School’s need about $12 million in capital projects money and they’re going to get $30 million,” he said. “In my opinion, what we are seeing is a concerted effort to kill the Washington Way. And in particular the academic magnet school.”
That was evident, Eldridge said, by comments that were made to him at a Johnson City School Board meeting that indicated a real concern for the academic magnet to attract students away from the Johnson City School System.
He said that the capital projects fund is the responsible way to build schools and that the need for future tax increases for capital projects in Washington County is virtually eliminated.
“I believe it’s easy to understand how the capital projects funding is more fair to the taxpayers than the traditional way of doubling the cost of a new school and borrowing 100 percent,” he said. “Because without the capital projects plan, last years property tax increase would have been 23 percent higher to complete the exact same list of projects. Washington County’s tax burden would have been over $300 million after school borrowing, as opposed to the $244 million under this plan.”
Johnson City residential property owners will pay $20.5 million in county property taxes this year, according to Eldridge. And the Johnson City School System will receive more than $18 million in direct benefit through apportioning from the Washington County Trustee. He provided numbers that said that would come in the form of operations and maintenance funding and county debt service from the proposed $30 million from the county’s current school building program.
“That means Johnson City residents receive all other county services for a cost of about $2.5 million dollars per year,” he said. “That is actually less than $40 per capita, per year for all county services.
The county commission, he said, has one responsibility, to adequately fund the needs of the county, including the county school system, as efficiently as possible.
“Which to me, means minimizing the burden placed on county property taxpayers,” Eldridge said.
He went on to point out a particular funding advantage that the city has, he said, as half of the cities sales tax collections inside of its limits goes to the city’s general fund. Of which $13 million is appropriated to the city’s schools system, according to Eldridge, and none of it is shared with the county system.
“One very important factor regarding funding that’s being ignored by the Johnson City School Board is that the county commission, you are not the funding body for the Johnson City School System,” he said. “Now I know that several of you have been in a meeting with the Johnson City School Board when you were told you are their funding body. That is factually incorrect. You are not the funding body for the Johnson City School System, you have no responsibility in it.”
Therefore, he went on to say, “This commission has no responsibility to share a county property tax increase with Johnson City schools,” Eldridge said. “For the Johnson City School System to claim their owed a share of the tax increase, regardless of what that increase serves.”
Eldridge went on to say that some of the property tax increase funded a lot of other needs in the county besides schools.
“For them to claim that they’re owed a share of the tax increase, over and above the statutory appointment is, quite honestly, unheard of,” Eldridge said. “They know better.”
Washington County School Construction
Eldridge said that a land purchase agreement for 15.557 acres for $777,900 has been executed. The county has a due diligence period until June 9, with an option to extend that 30 days if they chose. That will allow them to do all of the due diligence testing that is required at a site. The closing is scheduled no later than Oct. 1 of this year.
The Boones Creek K-8 land has a closing scheduled for April 19 and the final acreage was up a little bit from the expected 56 acres to 57.47 acres. The county purchased the property — which is on the corner of Boones Creek Road and Highland Church Road — for $1.85 million.
The Boones Creek K-8 bids for general contractor are due back on Thursday and Eldridge said he expects a recommendation from the committee at the end of next week.
“Assuming the project is within budget and they’re no hiccups in the process, we expect to break ground in June or July,” Eldridge said.