Washington County Commission approves inter-local agreement with Johnson City over Jonesborough school project

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Washington County commissioners on Monday approved an inter-local agreement between the county and Johnson City regarding the Jonesborough school project.

This is the second time the county commission has approved the agreement. The commission approved it back in February, but the vote had to be retracted due to legal disparities in the contracts between the city, county, and commission committees.

The commission voted: 8 yes, 5 no, 1 vacancy, 1 abstain.

“There were some slight changes to that that the city of Johnson City had taken a look at and sent it back for those slight modifications,” said Commission Chairman Greg Matherly ahead of the vote without discussion.

Monday’s vote comes after months of negotiations between the city and county following the county’s unique funding arrangement with the town of Jonesborough that triggered rumblings of a legal battle with Johnson City.

“The difference in the two drafts was an assignment of the rights for the city against any action against the town of Jonesborough… there was an assignment of that right to the county and the city isn’t able to assign any of those rights,” said Johnson City staff attorney Sunny Sandos.

Under the agreement, $12.5 million will go to the city over 25 years to fund school projects.

“This agreement is a way to secure funding to the city at $12.5 million dollars payable over 25 years where state law is silent. Where there is no requirement that currently exists that would require any funds to be shared from the county to the city.”

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett says that money will be used for additional classrooms at elementary schools across the county.

“The fairest deal would be for the money to be divided equally based on per-pupil… by the average number of pupils in each school system,” said Barnett.

Barnett says the city and county systems are continuing to grow and will therefore have more needs.

“We’ve had…steady growth over the last 10 years so we expect to continue to grow and as your school system grows,” said Barnett. “You need teachers, you need seats, buildings and you need to maintain and repair those buildings.”

Sandos is calling the Jonesborough deal a “novel approach” as it allows the town to spend almost $33 million on a new school and athletic facility via a plan that bypasses state law and results in less funding for city schools.

“In the more historical bonding that counties will do for the building of capital projects for their schools, there’s a state statute that directly relates to how those funds have to be shared with the cities,” Sandos said.

In previous commission meetings, Sandos has advised the city to not take action against the county over the Jonesborough K-8 plan.

“While it’s not, exactly according to the appropriate funds that the legislature intended or had contemplated whenever the division of funds was discussed and codified,” she said. “It’s an agreement that we reached that did guarantee some funding to the city.”

Next- the Johnson City commission will have to vote to accept the agreement. City leaders told News Channel 11’s Anslee Daniel that it is expected to be voted on at the second commission meeting in September.

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