A plan for progress, and no new taxes

I know most of you are aware of the firestorm that’s erupted over a bond issue of $25 million that was approved by the County Commission last Tuesday, August 20.
The plan includes expansions at Summertown High School, E.O. Coffman, and South Lawrence (a plan provided by the Lawrence County School Board); a new ambulance service building, one new ambulance and improved equipment for other ambulances; improvements at the Courthouse (much, including the bathrooms, has been untouched since it was built in 1974); remodeling costs at a legislative/training building; patrol cars for our Sheriff’s Department; and $2.5 million for our new college facility.
A second phase includes $8 million to purchase land from multiple landowners for an automotive test track, and in the event that falls through, a new gymnasium at Loretto High School.
Is this a perfect plan? I agree that it is not, but it addresses many needs with NO NEW TAXES. Although many have criticized it, an alternative has not been suggested. I submit that it would very difficult, if not impossible, to create a plan that would 1) meet as many needs; 2) garner enough support from the Commission to pass; and 3) keep taxes at their current level.
Progress for our county and the people who live here is my goal. That is the ONLY reason behind our new college plan and work toward the automotive test track.
The land for the college was purchased from GT Refractory Solutions, formerly UCAR Carbon. Construction was estimated at $9 million, which would have been easily covered by $4.6 million from the state and $1.5 million each from the county, city and private donors.
The low bid, from Orion Construction of Franklin, Tennessee, came in much higher than expected, just like other construction projects under consideration. We approached the state again and were given $1.5 million more. We applied for a grant but were denied it because we had already received $6.1 million from the state.
The city agreed to take on the remaining $5 million because the time to sign a contract for construction was upon us. We knew a delay would only raise the price. City officials, and I, hoped that despite the commission’s initial reluctance to do so, the county would split that commitment with them and put in another $2.5 million. It is really a small price to pay for the promise it holds.
Because the college is a good plan, and being hailed as the way of the future by state education officials, we chose not to abandon or reduce it. It will house more than one institution, so Tennessee Tech and MTSU, for instance, can offer junior and senior-level classes here that they could not otherwise. I understand everyone doesn’t want stay close to home for college, but there are some who do, and some who can’t do anything else. Online classes are an option for those who have good broadband service, but that is spotty in most of our rural areas.
The automotive test track is a long shot, but we do have a shot. Again, the object is progress. This facility would have an impact similar to the one Murray Ohio had in the mid-1950s. It would provide jobs itself – including those that require four-year degrees - and create many, many more because our community would grow.
When the school building plan was designed by the School Board, it called for two new high schools and a new middle school in Lawrenceburg. The goal was to eliminate overcrowding and create the middle school model (grades 6-8) across the county so that more programs could be offered to that age group. The original price tag for the high schools was estimated at $24 million each.
Again, the quotes for construction came in much higher than expected - $38 million for each high school alone. Raising the property tax to that degree would make our rate one of the highest in the state, a death knell for economic development. Covering it with wheel tax proceeds would require an additional $75 per school, and past attempts to raise the wheel tax have been soundly defeated at the polls.
I asked school officials to come up with an alternative plan and that was presented to me during this year’s budget hearings. Estimates for additions at Summertown High School, E.O. Coffman and South Lawrence came in at $9.1 million. To help cover additional costs for engineering, the $25 million bond approved last week includes $11.9 million for schools.
Loretto High School is not overcrowded and the middle school model will be created at South Lawrence with this plan. We included the possibility of a new gymnasium because it was scratched from a 1997 school building plan due to cost overruns.
Again, this plan is not perfect, but in government at every level, compromises are necessary for anything to be accomplished. Little is done in Washington these days because no one is willing to make concessions. I’m afraid a return to the drawing board would only cost more time on projects that need action now.



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