Budget committee stalls Jonesborough school plans without finance plan

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The Jonesborough community will continue the wait for a K-8 school after the county’s Budget Committee meeting on Thursday. 

And the question remains how the county would pay for the project. 

This was the first time that plan dubbed “Scheme 6” appeared as a resolution before the Budget Committee. The plan passed the county Health, Education and Welfare Committee last month with a request that the Budget Committee find a way to finance the plan, which was selected by the county Board of Education in October. 

After two hours of discussion, which included a presentation by county Finance Director Mitch Meredith, the committee chose to table the issue for a month in a unanimous vote. 

Meredith’s presentation outlined a problem: The money for “Scheme 6” just isn’t there.

Meredith, who is also on the school board, began the meeting with a presentation reviewing the school capital investment plan through 2024. He began with a throwback to 2016, when the county approved a capital project funding plan for a future Boones Creek school and renovations to the existing Jonesborough schools. 

That original capital plan included an annual five-cent dedication to finance Jonesborough Elementary school renovation project, equalling about $10 million. The county would have had to borrow $20 million to account for the 50/50 share with Johnson City, required by state law. 

The board of education abandoned the renovation route, though, and began looking at options for a new Jonesborough school. 

After considering almost 10 different plans for a future Jonesborough K-8 school, board members landed on “Scheme 6,” a plan that would renovate and add on to the existing middle school building to create a K-8 school.
 
The problem is, “Scheme 6” goes beyond the five cents originally allocated. Meredith estimates that the project will take about 13 cents to pay for the debt, meaning there are eight more cents to make up. 

That money can be made up by raising the tax rate, he said. 

The presentation outlined payment for about $56 million in funds for the Jonesborough project, which includes the purchase of the adjacent McCoy property. That amount is doubled to account for the 50/50 share with Johnson City schools, required by state law. 

Waiting is an option, Meredith added. He said the “cash flow” would account of part of the debt in about four years. But for the Jonesborough community, that’s four years in aging buildings and the problems that come along with them. The county would likely still have to borrow money, he added.

Committee members also voted to table a resolution to purchase the McCoy property – the 15-acre parcel of land adjacent to the existing Jonesborough Elementary School. The $740,000 purchase has been delayed by restrictions from Lowe’s Home Improvement. 

Mayor Joe Grandy said at Thursday’s meeting that Lowe’s has agreed to lift restrictions on the property, but that the county is still waiting on paperwork to go through. 

Commissioner Jim Wheeler said since the future of Jonesborough is on that property, he wants the promise of the McCoy property sealed for the school’s future use. 

“If we’re staying on that property, I think we need to purchase the McCoy property so that those kids have an opportunity in the future to have potential ball fields, softball fields, baseball fields, like we have at other schools,” Wheeler said. 

The committee voted in a unanimous decision to table the resolution to purchase the property. The Budget Committee’s next meeting is March 13 at 9 a.m. 

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