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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
Hamilton County Commission Vice Chairman Greg Beck says he just wants his district to get its share of special school project money.
In January, Mayor Jim Coppinger confirmed he offered to let the commission have one-time access to $900,000 of the county credit line to spend on large school and community projects in fiscal 2017. The undocumented discussion took place after a budget workshop last spring when commissioners opposed the proposed exclusion of their special district money for the second year in a row, he said.
Last fall, the commission approved a request by Commissioner Jim Fields to put $150,000 of the money toward resurfacing the track at Red Bank High School. In January, Commission Chairman Chester Bankston failed on two occasions to get support for a new $500,000 track to be shared by Central High andBrown Middle schools.
On Wednesday, Beck told his colleagues they needed to go ahead and split the money instead of "going around and around" about it.
"I'm working on a proposal, or resolution, that will allow the remaining portion of that designated bond money to be equally divided between the other eight commissioners up here on this dais," Beck said. "I want to make sure there's no squabbling about the money that's left."
In addition to the amount committed to the Red Bank High School track, the commission also approved Bankston's request to put $3,400 toward an athletic field striper for Ooltewah High School. Members also approved swapping $25,000 of Commissioner Sabrena Smedley's district discretionary money -- which comes from the county general fund and cannot be spent on schools -- for $25,000 in bond money to use for football field bathrooms at East Hamilton School.
Between the three projects, the commission has tapped nearly $180,000.
If the commission backs Beck's proposal, Bankston won't have enough one-time money to fully pay for the Central High track project unless other commissioners pitch in their own piece of the pie.
The Central High track makeover first flopped on Jan. 4 when five commissioners abstained from voting, leaving Bankston with only four votes, one short of what was needed to pass. Two weeks later, the commission voted 5-4 to table the issue indefinitely. Commissioners Beck, Fields, Joe Graham, Warren Mackey and Greg Martin supported tabling Bankston's request.
Dividing the bond money runs counter to Coppinger's call for the commission to look at the county's big picture when figuring out how to spend it.
"The sensible, reasonable part of this is that we look at this collectively, look at the county as a whole and not so much about how much gets spent in [a particular] district," Coppinger said at the end of the first drawn-out Central High track battle.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.
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