By MARINA WATERS
Washington County’s Board of Education and County Commission met Monday afternoon to hopefully arrive at answers regarding school projects. But it seems the meeting circled around more questions than answers — the big question being how much money is currently available for the Jonesborough K-8 School project?
To get to the answer, Mitch Meredith, school board member and the county’s financial director/budget advisor, gave a rundown of the financial plan for the current Boones Creek K-8 School project.
Meredith told the group that the Boones Creek project set at $28.6 million, with $8.9 million dollars already being put toward the cost, still leaving $19.6 to be funded in cash. To pay the amount, Meredith said some of the pennies from the 2016 tax increase set aside for the Jonesborough Project are being utilized to pay for the Boones Creek project. He also said $8.3 million is still left unpaid on the Boones Creek project.
“You’ve got to have cash before you do the project,” Meredith said. “You have to have some cash somewhere — either sitting in pennies that you’ve collected for another project that you haven’t let yet — but you have to have the funding available to let the contract. That’s going to leave us another $8.3 million we have to fund from somewhere. Where we’re funding that from, quite honestly, is from some of the general government pennies some of the general government pennies that are coming in and we’re funding it with pennies from Jonesborough.”
Meredith said the more the county funds a project with cash, the less it costs the Washington County taxpayers. But for some, the utilization of the Jonesborough project pennies for the Boones Creek project raised concern for the future of the Jonesborough school, which is yet to see a design plan approved by the county commission.
Commissioner Danny Edens said he came to the joint meeting with one question: how much money is available, if any, for the Jonesborough project without borrowing. Meredith said currently, there were $0. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said the Jonesborough project will be borrowed at close to 100 percent of the full cost for the school.
And that cost of the school project was a concern from Street as well; the architect asked Grandy if $20,750,000 was an accurate budget figure. In his recent school design plans for the Jonesborough project, that figure was used as the maximum amount available, which was the case in the “Scheme 6” design plan that the BOE approved at its Oct. 2 board meeting.
“I’m not exactly sure where we got this number, but when we started working on the design trying to develop a budget for the Jonesborough project, we got a number of $20,750,000. We used (that figure) as a limit or a budget boundary. But what I’m hearing tonight, that’s not an accurate number. That doesn’t seem to be a valid number.”
Meredith said currently, that was the case.
Meanwhile, Grandy said that the county’s 2016 tax increase, which included pennies set aside for both school projects, was designed “for a new Boones Creek School and a renovation of $9.9 million for Jonesborough.” He said that plan, as far as the tax increase was concerned, had never changed.
After having approved a “Scheme 6” design plan with a $17,560,00 price tag, BOE members called for action from the commission in regards to the school project. Board member Todd Ganger mentioned that if there is even more of a delay on the project, the roof at Jonesborough Elementary School would have to be replaced soon, followed by a roof replacement at Jonesborough Middle School.
“When (Scheme 6) gets presented, we need to know as a board we can’t do that,” Ganger said. “If it’s the HEW Committee, the budget, the full commission, whoever does that, if it’s not going to happen, we need to know. What I’m saying is, the board has done something. Now, we need you all to do something as far as, “You can’t do this. This is the amount of money you’ve got,” or, “You’ve got no money. You better start renovating what you can at $1 million a roof.’
“We’re in the time now that we have got to start putting roofs on these schools if they’re not going to be replaced. That’s kind of where we’re at with that. We’ve got to start doing some stuff.”
Edens, who also serves as the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee chairman, said the Scheme 6 plan will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 1 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Jonesborough. The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, where the board is slated to discuss rescinding two previous design plans, Scheme 2 and Scheme 4. That meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s central office.