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Commission votes down school-building plan

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

rclawrence@bellsouth.net

After months of uncertainty, the school system’s $47 million building plan is officially a no-go.

The Roane County Commission voted 15-0 against funding the proposal at Monday night’s meeting.

“In other words, the school board needs to go back to square one and start over,” Commissioner James Harmon said.

The school board submitted its proposal to the county commission last year. The plan called for the construction of two new schools, along with renovations and upgrades to other facilities throughout the district.

The school board has argued that the plan is needed to fix problems, such as overcrowding and deteriorating buildings, that are plaguing the district.

The commission, which is the funding body for the school system, wanted the school board to submit a less-expensive plan.

Board members were reluctant to do so because the commission technically never said no to the $47 million plan.

That’s no longer the case after Monday night’s vote.

Commissioner Bobby Collier said he thought the best course of action for the commission was to defeat the current plan, and then try to work with the school system on an alternative proposal that’s less expensive.

Collier called for a voice vote, which in the end turned out to be irrelevant because every commissioner voted no on the plan.

Commissioner David Olsen pointed out that the commission had not even come up with a way to fund the plan, so he couldn’t see it being approved without a decision on how to pay for it.

“We can’t simply vote $47 million for this or that and then worry about how we’re going to pay for it later,” he said. “It has to be understood right up front.”

Commission Chairman Troy Beets said the building proposal wasn’t even supposed to be on Monday night’s agenda.

Beets said he forgot that the commission had previously made a stipulation that it would hold two joint meetings with the school board before voting on the plan.

Only one, a bus tour, had been held, Beets said.

“As we age and your memory leaves you, and I had forgot there was a stipulation of two meetings,” Beets said.

In other business, a resolution to spend $78,000 for the production of a documentary on Roane County history was withdrawn.

The issue sparked a lengthy discussion, with many commissioners saying they felt it was unwise to commit that amount of money to a documentary film in lean economic times.

“We’re facing some hard times ahead,” Commissioner Jerry Goddard said.

Apparently some taxpayers were fuming over the idea.

Many commissioners reported hearing from their constituents about the resolution.

“I got confronted with this,” Commissioner Ray Cantrell said. “People said if any of our county taxes are going for it, they’re not for it.”

The county budget committee unanimously approved sending the resolution on to the full commission.

The commissioners who serve on that committee, along with County Executive Mike Farmer, seemed to be the only ones in favor of the movie venture Monday night.

After hearing the discussion and realizing there wasn’t enough support, Collier asked that it be withdrawn.

Farmer said he was disappointed, because he thought it could have been a good way to promote Roane County.

“I think that you have to invest some money,” Farmer said. “Am I to infer from this that we don’t want to try to promote Roane County? I don’t know. I need to talk to the commissioners and find out what the intent is.”

The commission did approve a resolution to add $30,000 to the ambulance service fund to cover increased fuel cost.

That resolution also called for an additional $10,000 for medical supplies.