​Middle Schools Will Require Property Tax Increase

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Dec. 11 Franklin County Commission School Committee meeting, financial advisor Ashley McAnulty projected a need to increase the property tax rate by 11 cents to pay the $48 million construction cost for two new middle schools. For a $100,000 home, by law taxed at 25 percent of assessed value, the total annual tax bill would increase $27.50.
School Committee Chair Angie Fuller said the commission was previously told only a five cent increase would be needed to pay for the new middle schools.
“There wasn’t a firm estimate on the cost until the design build was completed by the architects,” McAnulty said.
McAnulty’s projections are based on additional funds becoming available in 2024 when the new high school is paid off. With the 11 cent increase, the Education Debt Service Fund will realize approximately $3 million annually in revenue, the total estimated annual payment needed to pay off the middle school’s debt over a 25 year period.
Former county commissioner Dave Van Buskirk asked if a property tax increase could be avoided by only paying interest on the debt until 2024.
“The county would need approval of the state comptroller,” McAnulty said. “It would be a difficult sell. The comptroller would likely view it as the county putting off what they needed to do.”
By law, the county is required to keep 50 percent of the annual debt payment owed in the debt service fund. “It might be possible to decrease property taxes after 2024,” McAnulty speculated. Increase in property values could make more money available for the schools.
Van Buskirk pointed out county residents currently paid less in property taxes than in 2006.
County Commissioner Gene Snead argued for building one consolidated school instead of two. “Over time, the cost of operating two campuses will far exceed the cost of operating one campus.”
Initially the school board proposed building a single consolidated school, estimated cost $55 million.
“We looked at six locations,” said Director of Schools Stanley Bean. Some locations were excessively costly and others would have required transporting students long distances. “A community poll favored two schools 70 percent to 30 percent,” Bean noted.
The current middle schools suffer from leaking roofs that have defied repair, mold infestation, and exposed wiring due to technological advances requiring additional circuitry.
“I worked at South Middle School two days and got sick as a dog,” Fuller said. “The environmentalists could close the schools. I never voted for a property tax before, but we have our backs up against the wall.”
The leaking gym roofs at the middle schools make it necessary to warn visiting schools games may need to be delayed. And without air conditioning, temperatures can exceed 90 degrees. “Schools hate coming here,” observed SMS teacher and coach Peggy Hegwood.
The new middle schools will retain the current gyms with the roofs replaced and HVAC added.
Asked why the roofs on the other pods couldn’t be replaced, construction manager Gary Clardy explained the roofs had different underlayment complicating attaching a new roof and the expansion joints between the pods dammed up water causing leaks.
“You’d spend $4.5 million to $5 million on each school and still have the conditions inside to deal with. “ Clardy added getting a warranty on the replacement roofs could be problematic.
Bean pointed out delaying construction could add 10-20 percent annually to the total price tag for the new schools. “That’s $5 million annually and that’s the low estimate.”
McAnulty said as little as one half a percent increase in interest rates could increase the total cost by $3.7 million.
The county commission will vote on the middle school funding request Jan. 21.