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School funding sought
Brothers Memphis, 3, and Marek Sadlon, 6, attended the meeting with their mother, Megan, to show support for a proposed renovation of West Elementary.

A heated county meeting loaded with finger pointing ended abruptly with a visit from McMinnville Fire Department responding to a possible fire within the building.
The county Education Committee met Monday to discuss the school system’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as receive an update on school projects.
The meeting gained tension when a crowd of approximately 80 parents and students gathered from both Bobby Ray Elementary and West Elementary to show support for the county funding proposed renovations at their schools. Also under consideration are renovations at Eastside and Warren County Middle School.
Commissioner Diane Starkey started the meeting by informing the crowd committee members were unaware of the School Board’s recent decision to go out for bids on the four projects estimated to cost a combined $12 million and send that measure to them for consideration during the meeting.
"We don’t want to let you down, but I don’t know for sure if we will be able to commit to that,” she said. “We haven’t even started on our school budget yet and we’ve also got other budgets we have to look at as they come in and look at it as a whole."
Commissioner Terry Bell says Director of Schools Bobby Cox has suggested the wheel tax – revenue earmarked for schools – as a possible source of funding.
“Our wheel tax right now is generating $1 million, which is not even enough to pay the debt on the three schools that we have debt on right now,” said Bell. “We have to take $550,000 out of the county budget every year just to pay on the schools we’ve done.”
Currently, the wheel tax is $30 per registered vehicle. Bell says an attempt to increase that amount, if it fails, could cost the county the entire tax.
“If we go and ask for a raise in the wheel tax and it gets voted down, you lose the whole $30 you’ve been receiving. You lose it all,” said Bell. “If you take it to a ballot of the people and they vote it down, we are in worse shape than we were.”
A proposed property tax increase was also floated as a possible funding mechanism, said Bell. The county hasn’t raised property taxes in 14 years.
Bell pointed to the settlement between the city and county over local option sales tax – revenue that once went to the schools that is now slowly being returned to the city – as the reason why the county is low on financial resources.
“Our whole problem stems, a little bit, from the city/ county lawsuit,” Bell said. “This year the city has taken $358,000 away the county has had to replace. That money was going to the schools. That grows ever year. This year, it will be over $400,000 the county will lose because the city took the sales tax back. It was benefiting every kid in the county, so I don’t understand why they did that.”
Per the 2011 agreement, the county must return 4 percent of the revenue, compounded annually, over the next 25 years. Based on estimates at that time, the county will be returning $80,000 each year (i.e. $80,000 the first year, $160,000 the second year, $240,000 the third year). At the end of the 25-year agreement, the entire $2 million will be going to the city.
Debts were recently incurred for projects at Irving College, Bobby Ray and Warren County High School.
Bell says commissioners thought the school system was in good shape after those projects until tours of the four schools were taken pointing otherwise, which left them wondering why some of the pro-jects were undertaken rather than addressing safety and security issues.
 “After touring, I’ll be honest with you, we shouldn’t have built some of what we did,” said Bell. “There are some issues that should have been addressed at West Elementary. We weren’t aware of those. I think my fellow commissioners will agree. We were misled. I don’t know who made the decision, Bob-by, whether it was the School Board or what but we’ve got 5- and 6-year-old kids walking out in the open. That needs to be fixed now and not later. I want to ask why we haven’t done anything about that.”
The last three projects were to address overcrowding at Irving College, a deteriorating gym at Bobby Ray, and add a fieldhouse at the high school.
Cox defended the three projects, calling them necessary and outlining why they needed to be done, and defended himself against allegations he misled commissioners.
“I’ve heard all the scuttlebutt the same way you’ve heard it,” said Cox. “That I said we would never ask for anything else. I’ve heard that once we got these projects done, we weren’t going to ask for any-thing else. I don’t think I ever said that. What I did say is I think we have our buildings in pretty good shape and we can work on those other projects as we need to. I’m going to tell you man-to-man I apologize if you, or anyone else, took it that way.”
He added, “We can point fingers and say, ‘That’s an issue so we should have done this’ or ‘Why didn’t we do that’ or whatever. We can do that, but I don’t see that solving any of the problem that we have right now. There are always going to be issues with the buildings that we have. Always.”
Cox said he did suggest funding options with a wheel tax increase or a property tax increase. A wheel tax increase of $20 would generate an estimated $716,000 a year. A 20-cent property tax increase on a $100,000 property would be approximately $50 more a year on the homeowner and it would provide the county with $1.3 million in additional revenue.
Going out for bids, said Cox, would provide real numbers on the projects and those numbers can be used to establish a funding timeline.
“When you start talking about schools and the budget, you are talking about two things that people hold dear – their children and their money,” he said. “All I’m asking is we work together. I’m not saying that $12 million can be done overnight. I don’t think the School Board thinks that. We have estimates and what we want to do is get an RFP out and when those come back, see what the real costs are with priority given to Bobby Ray and West as the first projects discussed for approval. Then, we can work on a timeline for funding.”
Committee members agreed Cox does not need county Education Committee approval for an RFP. Given School Board approval, which he has, he can go out for bids.
Shortly after ending that discussion and beginning another item of business, the fire alarm at Warren County Administrative Offices sounded and required an evacuation until firefighters could determine the cause, a malfunctioning water pressure valve in the sprinkler system. The sprinkler system mal-functioned again Tuesday.
The committee did not reconvene.

• A wheel tax hike of $20 will generate an estimated $716,000 a year.
• A property tax increase of 20 cents will cost $50 more a year on a $100,000 piece of property.