By COLLIN BROOKS
The Washington County Commission approved a resolution that allows Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge to enter into a purchase agreement for the new Boones Creek school on Boones Creek Road and Highland Church Road.
Resolution 16-08-16 allows the county to execute an option to purchase the 56-acre property from George Alex Williams, II, for no more than $35,000 per acre or $1.875 million.
Not everyone was in favor of the site, with the vote ending at 19-2 for the resolution.
Commissioners Lee Chase — along with Steve Light — were the two that voted the resolution down. Chase was the first to voice his displeasure with the site.
“I want to state that I have been very much in support of Boones Creek replacement school; that is evident by my motion in the January Health, Education and Welfare Committee to refer this onto budget. However, I cannot support this resolution based on the current recommended site,” Chase said. “First, this is not a Boones Creek school. It is approximately 4.5 miles from the Jonesborough Middle and Elementary site and is almost in the geographic center of the county.
“It is also surrounded on two sides by incorporated Johnson City, the arguments used in the original recommendation placed this further north in the county. I recognize that the school board has the responsibility to pick the site, but the votes on this site have been 4-4, 5-4 against and finally 5-4 in favor. This suggests to me a strong division on the board.”
The votes made Chase uncomfortable with the site. He went on to call the selection of this site to be a “plague on the people that have to travel Highway 354, Boones Creek Highway and Highland Church Road, both two-lane roads.”
Commissioner Rick Storey agreed that this may not be the ideal piece of property, but he said that the perfect parcel may not be out there.
“While I can’t speak for the school board, I share the same concerns that were stated earlier about the votes,” Storey said. “Evidently, the ideal piece of property that everyone wants is not on the market. Commissioner Chase, I share the concerns about the vote, but we have been looking for property and our architect has looked at 20-something pieces of property and I don’t know if we’ll ever find the perfect property.
“I wish we would’ve had a consensus, but I think the properties have been properly vetted and I would like to see us move on. If we leave this off another month, then we won’t be able to open in August of 2019.”
Commissioner Mike Ford admitted that he wasn’t “tickled to death about this piece of property,” but he was going to vote in favor of it.
The school system also got good news when its request for $640,000 from the capital project fund was approved for the use of technology. Earlier in the month, Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton presented a plan in which she would purchase 33 chromebook labs for 8th-12th grade English/Language Arts classrooms across the district and 24 Clear Touch Interactive Panels (28 for 4th grade and three for each high school)..
“I think this is one of the best things that this county is doing,” Commissioner Paul Stanton said. “…This is the type of thing that we need to do more of, not less of.”
Commissioner Robbie Tester mentioned that he had concerns about the way the resolution was worded, where it stated the county was “declaring the intent of Washington County to reimburse itself for certain expenditures relating to public works projects with the proceeds of tax exempt bond or notes.”
“If the intention is to pay cash, then why are we saying that our intention is to borrow it?” Tester asked.
Washington County Finance Director Mitch Meredith said that it was the county’s intent to pay cash, but should the need arise to borrow the money, then this wording needed to be in the resolution.
“If there was the need to borrow funds as we move forward with all of the activity that is happening on the education side, this would give us the opportunity to borrow that money on a tax-free basis,” Meredith said. “The wording just allows that borrowing at a much lower cost, because it would be tax-free. It’s just a way to maintain that option.”
He also noted that it is not the county’s intention, but it was a requirement to make this note on the resolution early on in the process. Borrowing the money would force the county to borrow enough money to share the same amount with Johnson City, as mandated by state law when borrowing for education purposes.
Tester later noted that the wording of that and another similarly written resolution were the only reasons that he voted no.
If there was a need to borrow, then the commission would have to approve that before it could happen. Tester and Light were the two commissioners that voted no to the resolution.