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Town board votes to offer settlement to county schools

After an executive session Monday night, Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to make an offer to the Washington County Board of Education of more than $30,000 in response to pending liquor-by-the-drink tax litigation.
Alderman Chuck Vest made the motion at the Sept. 8 meeting for the town to submit the offer — an amount calculated by Town Recorder Abbey Miller — and for it to be paid over three years. He also requested that a school board member or chairman meet with them.
“I think the relationship between our board and our town and our school board is very important,” Vest said.
“We are making a good faith effort to put it behind us and the school board and let it move forward.”
Board Attorney Jim Wheeler said the pending litigation originated with state legislation that school districts could collect liquor-by-the-drink taxes they were owed.
Wheeler also said the town made an offer to the school board before the district filed suit.
“At this point, we are trying to get those negotiations back on track,” he said.
“At this time, I am suggesting that you all consider making some sort of offer or settlement that can be taken back to the school board.”
The Town of Jonesborough began the liquor-by-the-drink tax in 2002.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the county school board has hired an out-of-town attorney making $250 an hour to represent them on this matter.
“This attorney is insistent that we owe money on liquor-by-the-drink taxes for a time before which the town had liquor by the drink. I find it to be a silly plan and would hope the county school board would see how ridiculous it would be to argue this point,” he said.
Wolfe said the school board does not need to pay their attorney $250 to chase monies that are not due to them.
“The common sense thing to do is to meet face to face as elected officials who are responsible for the same citizens and do what is in the best interest for the taxpayers and not for these lawyers,” he said.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said part of the confusion stems from University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Services data, which indicates that the town received some kind of payment from the state before 2002.
“We didn’t have liquor by the drink. We had no private clubs. We had no way of generating revenue within the city limits of Jonesborough,” Browning said.
Wheeler said the town’s current position is to ask the school board members serving at the time of the tax to recognize the town did not have liquor-by-the-drink taxes before 2002. He said if the litigation moves forward, the school board will not be able to just rely on the CTAS report.
“What we are hoping for is that the school board will agree that it is not worth the school board paying their attorney to look into it, that us paying me to look into that, then a third party has to be hired by the court to look into that,” Wheeler said.