LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — The Metropolitan Moore County Council voted to tentatively approve a resolution that would place a referendum regarding a proposed $13 million school renovation on the March 2016 Presidential Preference Primary and County Primary voting ballot.
By definition, a referendum is placed on the ballot in order to allow the people of a county, state, etc., to vote for or against a specific issue. The issue at hand — whether or not to fund school renovations at the Moore County High School and Middle School campus — has been debated both by the council and in public forum for more than 12 months with little to no progress.
The Moore County Board of Education first asked for $17.2 million, but has since hacked away at the original plan and trimmed it down to $13 million. The Council, however, has been reluctant to fund the project because doing so would mean a property tax increase.
The proposed property tax increase is 37 cents.
For example, a parcel valued at $100,000 (carrying an assessed value of $25,000) would have an annual tax increase of $92.50. Property valued at $200,000 would see a $185 tax increase and so on. Approximately 50 percent of the landowners in the county have property valued in the $10,000 to $100,000 range, while, according to county records, there are 18 property owners in the county with property valued at $1 million or more.
On Monday night, the Council agreed to test the issue on the March ballot. Monday’s vote did receive two ‘no’ votes. Both Denning Harder (Dist. 5) and Amy Cashion (Dist. 1) voted against the resolution. While both council members have been two of the most committed to the renovation project, they said on Monday that they felt it was up to the council to make a decision on the matter and a referendum wasn’t needed for the council to do its job.
The Council’s vote was just the first step in getting the referendum on the March ballot.
After passing on Monday night, the Council’s resolution now must become a private act. It will have to go before both the state Senate and the House of Representatives on Jan. 12. It will have to pass through the Senate, then a House sub-committee and then the House of Representatives.
“If it gets through the State, it has to come back before (the council) by Jan. 15 for (the council) to approve their actions,” said Mayor Sloan Stewart.
County attorney John T. Bobo said the process should be little more than a formality.
While the Council has seemingly dragged its feet in regard to any action on the school renovation, the county’s governing body is now in a rush to get the issue placed on the upcoming election ballot. Because the deadline for the Election Administration office to mail ballots to military and overseas voters who have filed an application for ballot is Jan. 16, a decision has to be made by Jan. 15.
“It is at the Election Administration office, awaiting (council) approval and these steps,” added Mayor Stewart.
After approving the resolution, the Council decided to hold its regular January meeting on Friday, Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. in order to meet the state mandated deadline.
Monday’s meeting was just another step in a process that has moved along at a snail’s pace. And while giving the county’s voters a chance to weigh in on the matter seems like a good idea on paper, it doesn’t carry any guarantee either way because the referendum is a non-binding resolution.
That means regardless of what the voters have to say, it’s still up to the council to make the final decision; the only path to school renovation is through the council. Even so, in a Letter to the Editor in this week’s edition of The News (page 3), Cashion urged voters to show up and let their opinion be known, regardless of what it may be.
The Council also approved a Wheel Tax Ballot Referendum for the March 2016 election. Money raised through a Wheel Tax would be earmarked for the school renovation project and could help reduce any proposed property tax. The projected wheel tax would be $50 per vehicle.
—By Robert Holman, Publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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