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County votes to move ahead on school plan — with caution



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In a meeting that could have easily been dubbed “urgency vs. caution,” the Washington County Commission voted to approve a resolution in support of the proposed Jonesborough school plan, but also added a workshop into the mix to give commissioners the opportunity to go over the details of the plan more thoroughly.

“If we do this correctly, and we position ourselves to successfully defend it, we’ll save the taxpayers a lot of money,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy told the board after the vote. “If we blow our way through this and we get some of this wrong or we miss something, it could possibly cost the taxpayer a significant amount of money.”

The workshop will be held sometime prior to Oct. 17 and will involve county and Jonesborough attorneys, as well as additional counsel. It will be announced five days prior to the workshop and after final leasing documents are complete.

Jonesborough’s school plan includes constructing and then leasing to the county a new K-8 school building, as well as athletic facilities to be located on a 48-acre tract on North Cherokee Street in Jonesborough.

The building payment for the county would be $2,362,000 a year, which the county’s finance director, Mitch Meredith, has said is “a doable plan.” At the end of that lease, the school board would own the building. The athletic facilities, however would continue to be maintained and owned by the town.

This plan, according to Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest, is under some urgency to make it viable.

“From the beginning, it has been our singular goal to keep this proposal as clean and clear as possible so it could move through the approval process,” Vest said. “I apologize to anybody who thinks we moved too fast. We think it is definitely necessary.

“The future is uncertain. You never know how things can change.”

Commissioner Jim Wheeler, who recused himself from the vote to act in his role as Jonesborough town attorney, suggested an Oct. 15 deadline to be able to lock in and take advantage of favorable interest rates.

But commissioners were hesitant to lock into too quick a deadline. Commissioner Freddie Malone amended the motion to give Commission Chairman Greg Matherly the authority to call a special meeting of the board before Oct. 17 to consider the specifics of the 20-year lease agreement between the county and the town. He added the two days to provide officials with a little cushion.

The motion passed by a 13-0 vote with Wheeler abstaining because of his role as town attorney. Commissioner Steve Light was absent from the meeting.

The vote was met with applause from a packed courtroom, many of whom spoke during the public comment part of the meeting in support of the school.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Kerrie Aistrop, longtime Jonesborough school advocate. “We went magnet school to we’re not going to get anything to now we have this plan.

“I know there are some challenges ahead. I just want to say thank you for actually looking into this.”