By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

For the first time since county and school officials in Washington County first discussed plans for the Jonesborough School, a design plan saw the commission floor on Monday night.

Two-plus years and a new commission later, the resolution to approve the design plan and the property adjacent to the current Jonesborough schools failed in a unanimous 0-13 vote. Commissioners Robbie Tester and Freddie Malone were absent.

The project has seen split votes on design plans from the school board, resolutions without recommendation from both the Health Education and Welfare Committee and the Budget Committee, and numerous workshops for county and school officials over the past two years. But questions remained for commissioners — namely, how to pay for the project.

“If we approve this to move forward now we are making the decision tonight that we are going to do something to pay for it,” Commissioner Jim Wheeler said. “At some point, that money has to come from somewhere.”

The county’s finance director, Mitch Meredith, who is also a school board member, said after August or September, 9 pennies left over from the Boones Creek project will be free to use for the Jonesborough School project. Meredith also said 7 new pennies would be needed through a tax increase in order to start the project currently.

“We will need some extra pennies as I reported to the budget committee,” Meredith said to the commission. “My recommendation is that you’re going to need another 7 pennies for you to hold onto. Otherwise, you will completely eradicate your capital projects fund.”

For commissioners, discussions of pennies from the 2016 tax increase

and a potential 7-cent tax increase warranted concern before the final vote.

“We don’t even know tonight if the 7 cents will even take care of building the school,” Commissioner Mike Ford said. “How can we vote on something when we don’t even know if that’s going to work? We need to have our heads together enough to know what we’re spending, know what we’re doing, what’s going to happen.

“I can’t vote tonight to put the taxpayers in debt $20 plus million and not have our facts together. It’s time that we start doing something.”

Wheeler asked Meredith how the former commission planned to pay for the Jonesborough School in 2017 when the group set a $20,750,000 budget for a school renovation and academic magnet project in Jonesborough. Meredith said it was planned to be paid for through “deferral or elimination of several capital projects that have already occurred” along with added debt.

“It was going to require some debt,” Meredith said, “but not to the tune you’re looking for today.”

Those same funding options were discussed an hour before the commission meeting when the Washington County Board of Education held a called meeting to talk about the Jonesborough School project. However, Chairman Keith Ervin said he called the meeting to get the board’s permission to tell the commission that the school board doesn’t want to start the project until March of 2020.

“If they can get a group of the tax money to come in,” Ervin said, “we can pay for Jonesborough like we did for Boones Creek.”

However, board members said they felt it was now the commission’s decision.

“Everything about this is up to them now,” board member Todd Ganger said. “Our job was to pick scheme, send it to them. It’s their job to accept it, reject it, go along with it, whatever.”

In addition to funding concerns, the commission also discussed another part of the “Scheme 6” design plan: the purchase of the McCoy property for $777,900.

The property, which is adjacent to the current Jonesborough schools, has seen its share of hold ups with more than seven option extensions and a slew of property restrictions set on the acreage by neighboring business Lowe’s Home Improvement. Though Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley said all restrictions related to a school building project have been lifted by Lowe’s on the property, some commissioners said they felt an appraisal needed to be done on the property before the purchase.

“We need to know what it’s worth,” Ford said. “I want to know what I’m buying when I buy something. I want to know what the worth of it is.”

Though the Jonesborough project is, yet again, left without a clear direction, commissioners suggested the county and school board create a task force to organize a plan for the Jonesborough project, along with a more streamlined process where county committees and the project are concerned.

“This is so frustrating,” Commissioner Jodi Jones said. “I know if I feel frustrated, it’s a fraction of how frustrated so many people must feel to see us sitting up here stuck.

“We need to stay in dialogue (with the school board). We need a better process for making this plan happen. This process of passing the ball back and forth doesn’t seem to work very well.”