Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Committees reach some accord

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By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post

A joint meeting of the Wilson County School Board and the Education and Budget Committees of the Commission Thursday night discussed issues surrounding the proposed new Lebanon High School with the three groups reaching a degree of accord by the time it adjourned.

Initially Budget Committee Chair Bernie Ash stated that the meeting would only hear from those who were on one of the committees, and then asked what they thought the main issues were.

The list, headed by money, also included the bidding process for the school, and how financing could be arranged for other schools in the future.

The bidding process came in for the most heated discussion, with School Board Member Don Weathers defending the board’s decision to ask Hewlett- Spencer (H-S) for a Guaranteed Maximum Price bid, while other contractors were asked for hard bids based on an architectural design. 

He said due to a letter of intent given the H-S in 2006 the board had to allow them to submit a GMP price. He also interpreted the letter to mean the board had to accept their price, that "H-S had a contract to build the new school."

Board Attorney Mike Jennings said he didn’t think that was true, saying he understood the letter allowed H-S to submit the GMP but that the board could reject it.

However, Jennings did point out that in his opinion if H-S doesn’t build the school, they will sue.

Weathers added that the process, which involved H-S changing specifications, cutting floor space, and eliminating things their expert said were not needed, was the way a GMP bid was done.

"It’s an entirely different process," he said.

Education Committee Chair Paul Abercrombie agreed, but said it was unfair to require some bidders to follow specs and allow another to change them.

Ash told the board members," I think we need one more bid that’s fair and competitive."

Several committee members supported Ash’s statement, with Budget Committee Member Jeff Joines pointing out that he didn’t think commission members could vote to fund the school when the bidding process had not followed the ordinance they had passed.

"I don’t care who builds the school," he said. "And I’m actually in favor of GMP bidding, but it has to be fair."

At that point School Board Member Vicki Adkins explained that from the board’s point of view it would be impossible to rebid the project unless contractors were assured the school would be funded if their bid was accepted.

"With the state of the economy we should have had at least seven contractors bidding on this project not three," Director of Schools Mike Davis said, "If you agree to fund it we’ll have them coming out of the wood work wanting to bid. But contractors are not going to bid if the money isn’t there"

Both also said part of the reason contractors were going to be hesitant to rebid on this project was the fact that it had already been bid twice.

Most of the commission members present agreed that they wouldn’t vote to raise taxes at this time.

And when Adkins suggested it be put on a referendum, School Board Chair Teddy Cook said, "It’s Government 101 people will not vote a tax on themselves."

Davis then suggested the possibility of a wheel tax that went straight to debt service, which would create a revenue stream to that account allowing the county to issue the bonds for a school and help to repay the debt.

And Weathers said, "If we are going to pursue new businesses and allow new residents to move here we have to do what ever we have to do to provide schools and other services to them."

Commission Member Eugene Murray then told the group that one way to get the money would be to sell the land designated as a landfill in the northern end of the county, since the county does not even use it.

He said the 183 acres was worth about $100 million and would solve the need to fund the school as well as solve some other financial issues such as a low fund balance.

He went on to say his solution was very unpopular, because commissioners believed the sale would lead to other counties and maybe even states bringing their trash to Wilson County to dump.

Finally Cook summarized her understanding of what the commission wanted as "You want a fair bid," and asked the committees to act on the proposal which has already been submitted to the education committee.

Adkins said she really just wanted the committees or the commission to either fund the project or turn it down so the school board could move on.

Ash agreed that if the education committee would send the current proposal on to budget, the committee would act on it.

Abercrombie agreed education would send it on to the budget committee.

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