"We've had an offer," Wilson County School Board Attorney Mike Jennings told the panel Monday night regarding the City of Mt. Juliet's debt to Wilson County Schools for alcohol taxes that the city, like many other cities and counties in the state, inadvertently failed to share with local schools.
In response to the settlement offer, the board briefly retreated into an executive session and when it returned to resume its public meeting, members agreed that Jennings should talk further with Mt. Juliet City Attorney Gino Marchetti "about some of the details."
"We're making good progress," Jennings said following the board's decision, which was not made by a formal vote. He promised to email Marchetti right away.
"I should be able to get information back to you by the July meeting," Jennings promised the board members.
He added that the fact that neither party is pushing the lawsuit against Mt. Juliet that was filed a year ago in June by Wilson County on behalf of the school district (by Jennings, who is also the county attorney) means that both sides think the issues involved could be resolved.
Mt. Juliet owes $449,000 to the county schools dating back for several years as part of a debacle that struck the entire Volunteer State. After cities and counties all across Tennessee failed to pay their required shares of liquor-by-the-drink (LBD) taxes to local school districts, those cities and counties struggled with how they could pay the sometimes large debts.
Lebanon starts repaying
Lebanon, Watertown, and the county itself have all agreed to pay their debts to Wilson County Schools - for instance, $81,121 is budgeted in next year's Lebanon city budget to start repaying $811,215.25 in alcohol tax revenues that the city previously neglected to share with the schools.
However, neither Lebanon nor Watertown waived construction fees for new schools in their cities like Mt. Juliet has done, a fact which Mt. Juliet officials have asked to be taken into consideration.
Last November, the school board voted 3-2 against lowering Mt. Juliet's tax debt by $200,000 as part of the city's first offer to settle the debt. City officials said last June that a state law passed to help resolve the alcohol tax debt dilemma allows but does not require school boards to offset some or all of cities' debts to them, based on cities' expenditures to benefit the school systems - but Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson questioned whether that's true.
Figures provided last year by the office of Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin show that the city waived $397,275 in fees for the school system and spent $3.7 million to build Golden Bear Parkway to Mt. Juliet High School, even though the school is located outside city limits.
Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.