The school board approved it unanimously on Monday, but a few City Council members have questions about a proposed resolution of a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt so they have called a special meeting for this evening (Thursday evening).
At issue is a proposed resolution of the dispute over certain Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.
Before it was approved by the school board on a voice vote Monday, the resolution was discussed in a joint work session with the council on Friday. A majority of city and school officials expressed support for the resolution during the non-voting work session.
It is next scheduled to be considered by the City Council on Monday, March, 3.
Tonight’s special non-voting meeting has been called by City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland.
The dispute has centered on how to use a portion of new sales tax revenues collected in Anderson County outside of Oak Ridge under a May 2006 referendum. School officials had argued they could keep that portion of the revenues, but municipal leaders had said the money should be used to help pay down the debt on the high school renovations.
The amount of money in question is in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 annually, although the total varies from year to year.
The joint resolution approved by the school board on Monday, Feb. 24, and scheduled to be considered by City Council on Monday, March 3, would allow the schools to keep its portion of the new Anderson County revenues. (Some of the revenues are also distributed to Clinton and Anderson County schools.) However, the resolution spells out how the money has to be spent in Oak Ridge: on technology enhancements, debt reduction, capital repairs and equipment, and grant matches and innovative educational projects.
The agreement would be in effect until the high school debt is paid or 2041. Most officials said it would allow the two sides to “move forward” and work together.
“I think it is fair, and I think it allows us to move forward in a positive direction,” Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said during the Monday night school board meeting.
“There are concessions on both sides, but it is time to get past it,” said Bob Eby, school board vice chair. “It is a true compromise.”
But Baughn has pressed for details on exactly how much the proposal would cost taxpayers. She has estimated that having the city make up the difference of up to about $300,000 per year until 2041 could cost up to about $10 million.
Garcia Garland said the school board’s unilateral decision on the county sales tax revenues has severely damaged her interest in cooperating.
But other council members said they were ready to “move forward,” and so are the business community and other residents.
“Compromise never makes everybody happy,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said during the joint work session Friday. “I think the ultimate thing that we got here is moving forward.”
Also on this evening’s agenda is a budget amendment allowing the school system to transfer $1.75 million from its General Fund Undesignated Fund Balance to fund technology infrastructure improvements and a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiative. The school board approved the budget amendment on first reading on Monday and will consider it again on second and final reading during a special meeting Friday morning. It will then be considered by the council on Monday.
The special City Council meeting today starts at 6 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 S. Tulane Ave.