UPDATE: The Washington County Budget Committee unanimously approved the interlocal agreement draft with Johnson City at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12. The full commission will consider the agreement at its next meeting meeting on Monday, Feb. 24. For more information, go to http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/.
By MARINA WATERS
Members of the Washington County’s Health Education and Welfare Committee were the first county commissioners to officially take action on the interlocal agreement between Washington County and Johnson City regarding funds for school construction projects.
The committee unanimously approved a motion to send the agreement draft to the budget committee. The agreement includes that the county would pay the city $12.5 million over a 25-year period, $500,000 a year.
“As far as the terms and the amount, I don’t think we’ve ever been in disagreement from October that the amount of money we’re talking about is a half a million dollars a year over 25 years for a total of $12.5 million,” City Manager Pete Peterson said to the committee on Thursday. “What we have really been negotiating or discussing intently for the past couple of months are the fine points and terms of, ‘What section of (Tennessee Code Annotated) are we going to quote in this agreement that governs the document? Who is going to settle a disagreement should there be a breach in the contract?’
“It’s really been lawyered up the past couple of months. We had to get the fine points of law correct, where it will be an enforceable document.”
The draft says the county and city came up with the agreement following the county’s interlocal agreement with the Town of Jonesborough to build a new Jonesborough K-8 school with athletic and recreational facilities on a 48-acre tract on North Cherokee Street.
On Oct. 28, the county commission approval the school plan to lease the school building and the facilities from Jonesborough for $41,700 per month for no more than 38 years. That night, the commission also approved a resolution allowing Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy to investigate and negotiate with the City of Johnson City “to identify terms that would resolve dispute over the interpretation of the Jonesborough Proposal.”
Because the $32 million Jonesborough School project will be financed by the town which, unlike the county, is not required by law to share education project funds with city school systems within the same county, the plan did not include sharing funds with the Johnson City School System.
In the agreement, the county would pay capital improvement funds to the city, and the agreement says the city will not take legal action now or in the future. But it all hinges on the Jonesborough School project.
The draft agreement includes that the county will have no obligation to the agreement “if the Jonesborough School Project does not move forward with the construction process.” Commissioner Jodi Jones said her only concern with the agreement was the tie to the Jonesborough School Project.
“I just want to say out loud that as I was reading it, I felt a little conflicted about tying the project with Jonesborough’s outcome,” Jones said. “If something should happen with the Jonesborough School project, and I hope nothing will — we shouldn’t be a liability to (the city school system’s) ability to get funded and work on their projects. But I kinda understand, also, why they are tied together.”
Meanwhile, Grandy added that the agreement also provides what was intended from both the county and city for future decades.
“I think one of the things we’ve focused on from the beginning was we’ve got to have some general terms for a document that passed the legal test,” Grandy said, “as well as indicate decades away from today what this document intended to do so that everyone is very clear once all of us aren’t around anymore.”