HS Track Request Debated by Council

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


East Hamilton-area county commissioners have successfully used county bond money to fund several local school projects, but another request derailed last week.

Commission Chairman Chester Bankston, who represents District 9, asked the commission to vote to use $500,000 in county credit to replace the Central High School/Brown Middle School track. He and Commissioner Warren Mackey sponsored the measure.

The proposal, needing five votes, received four, with commissioners Randy Fairbanks and Sabrena Smedley adding their support. Every other commissioner abstained from the vote, citing the need for more information and questioning how using so much of the county credit line might impact projects in their districts.

"I've seen zero documentation," Commissioner Greg Martin said. "I've heard absolutely nothing that speaks of it in that regard."

Bankston said an engineer had determined simple resurfacing would not fix the track's problems, as had been the case with Commissioner Jim Field's $150,000 credit line request for the Red Bank High School track in November.

The discussion quickly took a long and heated turn after Mayor Jim Coppinger told the commissioners they would have access to approximately $220,000 of county credit if they approved Bankston's request.

While several commissioners passionately called for funding their own district needs, Commissioner Tim Boyd said he was brokering an agreement for East Ridge to take over East Ridge High School athletic facilities to save county money.

Mackey cautioned against future gridlock at the meeting's end, describing the matter as "very uncomfortable."

Boyd said it was right for them to openly discuss the issue and stand for their districts.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said any commissioner may bring the Central High School track proposal back up for a vote since no side prevailed.

After the meeting, Coppinger confirmed he had told commissioners he was willing to let them have a one-time use of up to $900,000 of the county credit line for large school and community projects in fiscal 2017. The conversation took place about a year ago after a budget workshop when commissioners voiced disappointment over the proposed exclusion of discretionary funds for their districts for the second year in a row.

Until the fiscal 2016 budget, the county's nine commissioners had regularly received $100,000 apiece to spend on special project in their districts. When Coppinger did not include that in the budget, six commissioners turned around and voted to take the money out of the county's general reserve and later overrode the mayor's veto of the amended budget when he tried to stop them. They made no attempt to replenish discretionary money with reserve funds in the 2017 budget.

No documents of this proposal exist, either in budget workshop presentation slides or the actual 2017 budget. Since the matter pertains to a line of credit, nothing would be earmarked for the commission's unbudgeted use in the budget, Coppinger said.

Bankston requested the first tap on the county credit line with a $3,400 request to help pay for an athletic field striper for Ooltewah High School in September. In October, Smedley swapped $25,000 of her discretionary general funds, which cannot be used for capital school projects, to use $25,000 of the county credit line to help build restrooms for East Hamilton School's football field.

Email Paul Leach at [email protected]

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January 9, 2017


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