Funding approved by County Commission
Watertown's getting a new wrestling, gymnastics and cheerleading gym for its high school. The gym for the new Watertown High School won the Wilson County School Board's approval last week, and now the County Commission has approved funding it.
Like the school board, which narrowly approved the project by a 3-2 vote, the County Commission was not unanimous in giving its nod to the project Monday night. However, the commissioners' 18-7 vote was more lopsided in favor of funding the proposed gym.
The vote came after Director of Schools Donna Wright made a plea for the new gym before the commission, saying she believed there had been some confusion about the gym's potential cost and eventual use.
Why cost has risen
Wright acknowledged the cost had jumped from about $550,000 to nearly $841,000, but explained why it did, noting, "There will need to be a fourth weight-bearing wall."
Also, some existing sidewalk will need to be removed before the new foundation can be put in place, Wright told the commissioners. Finally, when the first estimate was received, construction of the new high school was not yet been started, she said: "It's been 28 months since it (the gym) was first bid."
The funding for the project would come from $604,000 left in the budget to complete the high school and a $236,789 reimbursement from the central cafeteria fund for money spent to furnish the Watertown cafeteria - for a total cost of $840,789.
Wright also told the commissioners why she supports wrestling as a high school sport.
"Wrestling is an individual sport, so size isn't an issue," she said. "And it's a scholarship sport." Basically, that means boys who aren't well-qualified for other sports can have the opportunity to win sports scholarships for college.
She also explained that the new "wrestling" gym would be used for gymnastics and cheerleading, too. Following her plea, the commissioners voted 18-7 to support the transfer of the cafeteria reimbursement funds to the building project fund.
New teachers, aides
The County Commission also unanimously authorized the transfer of funds to hire eight new education aides and four new special education teachers for the inclusion project the school system plans to start and the transfer of funds to allow the renovation of bathrooms and the gym at Lakeview Elementary.
The inclusion project will place special needs students in regular classrooms, with extra teachers and extra aides.
The renovations at Lakeview, which the School Board approved unanimously last week, will include removing asbestos from all 12 bathrooms in the school and replacing the gym floor with a new rubberized one.
About $186,000 of the $284,572 cost will come from the General Purpose School Fund, and nearly $99,000 will be funded by money left over from West and Rutland Elementary and West Wilson Middle School projects.
Threat to borrowing power
County Finance Officer Aaron Maynard also reported back to the County Commission about progress in dealing with the effects of a law recently passed by the legislature that would limit Tennessee counties' borrowing power - including Wilson's.
Maynard said he has drafted a letter to the legislature that the commission, at last month's meeting, asked him to write. But County Mayor Randall Hutto and County Attorney Mike Jennings suggested revisions to improve the letter, so it wasn't ready yet Monday night.
District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines had asked Maynard to draft the letter, with help from Jennings, to the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate, telling those bodies exactly how the law is going to affect Wilson County and its citizens.
The rest of the commissioners agreed with Joines' request and asked Maynard to bring his completed letter back to them for their approval.
The new state law would require the county to arrange "level debt payments" any time it borrows money, so the county's loan payments would have to include as big a payment on the principal of the debt as on its interest, beginning with the very first payment.
While that may not sound like a bad idea, it means the county could not borrow money for new projects until all older debts were completely paid off without raising property taxes.
Maynard said he and Hutto have also been trying to encourage other counties to join Wilson in supporting its request to ease the requirements of this law.
Probation director search
The County Commission also passed a resolution making the Judicial Committee responsible for recommending a new director of misdemeanor probation to the mayor. The position has been open since the recent resignation of the former director, Terry Duncan, and the county has received 17 applications for the job, Hutto said.
After receiving the committee's recommendation, Hutto could then appoint the recommended candidate with the approval of the County Commission. The Judicial Committee would also oversee the Probation Department.
Input will also be requested from the General Sessions judges as to how the department is operating and whether improvements could be made.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.