By Carl Helton, LC staff
Tonight (12.5.17), the Lakeland BOC (Board of Commissioners) held a special called meeting to discuss the resolution requesting the IDB (Industrial Development Board) to issue and not to exceed $60,000,000 in aggregate principal amount of public improvement bonds for Lakeland’s School project.
Twelve residents addressed the Board with their concerns: Susan Richardson, Stephanie Lefler, Sam Cooper, Jay Tyler, Lou Melton, Kevin Biggs, Debra Scott, Elizabeth Rook (Arlington Resident / Lakeland Business Owner), John Cooley, Anna Smith, Dan Brennan and Carl Helton. Most spoke out against the approval of the bond due to timing and debt with several in favor of having a complete school system.
Mayor Wyatt Bunker saved most of the questions until after all citizens had an opportunity to address the Board. Kyle Wright with PFM (Public Finance Management) was on hand to provide financial answers addressed to the Board.
Mayor Bunker responded back to several of the citizens including Ms. Rook who stated her office lease increased due to the property tax increase. Mayor Bunker asked how that affected her lease since she was not the property owner. Explained that she may need to review her lease with her landlord because the amount she stated in rent surpasses the tax on the property.
Another resident stated that he moved to Lakeland due to the low property tax and now it has gone out of control. Mayor Bunker asked him when he moved to Lakeland and his response was October 2015. Mayor Bunker explained to him that the .55 property tax was implemented in May of 2015 which was five months before he moved to Lakeland. Further explaining that the property tax was reduced earlier this year making it lower than the purchase date of October 2015.
A few addressed in favor of voting for the bond including Anna Smith who moved to the area when her husband was relocated to the Millington Naval Base. A great school is on the top of their list when looking for a home. She spoke in favor of completing the school system.
Staff member Carl Helton also spoke to the BOC during the meeting. His comments, below:
He quoted Lakeland’s first Mayor, Beverle Rivera, from an article printed in the Press Scimitar dated January 18, 1979. “There won’t be property taxes because we aren’t that developed. When more people move in and start demanding more services, we’ll have to have property taxes.” Went on explain how Lakeland’s past leadership ignored the City from the early mid-90s to 2012 and it was time Lakeland moved out of its parent’s basement and supported itself.
City Attorney Chris Patterson read the resolution to the Board. Mr. Wright was on hand to answer any questions the Board had on the financial portions.
All BOC members expressed their thoughts of support moving forward with a High School.
“There were passionate views on both sides. But the smart move is to build a high school and stand on our own two feet.” He also stated a K-12 system provides so many opportunities and builds the community.
“I look at Lakeland four years ago. People didn’t know where Lakeland was. It was relatively unknown. Today we get accolades. We are top of the state in several areas. Remarkable.” He referenced rankings for LES, the City Engineer and the middle school design award.
He explained the expedited movement on school construction was an outgrowth of the Vision 2020 meetings which began in late September. “We were discussing long term planning for the City. We requested numbers for fire, roads, parks and education.” It was in November when the Trump tax bill was dropped on a Friday and counsel got word of how that might impact affordability of building the school, he said.
Mayor Bunker said the only way with the short time frame was to use the IDB rental plan. “It was the only route we could take without a tax increase.”
But the rumors were swirling, he said. He noted that some people keep talking and eventually they will believe it is true. “I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Do you care about this City?”
Commissioner Clark Plunk reminded the audience he is the only commissioner to vote YES for both the middle school and now the high school.
Commissioner Matt Wright said he had kept track of messages he received in 24 hours and they were overwhelmingly supportive for building the high school. He noted he was surprised that after Kyle Wright explained the financing, the next speaker asked the same question. “There is an agenda, no matter what is said, it just doesn’t matter.”
Vice Mayor Josh Roman
He too kept tally of messages and social media posts about the school issue and said those who contacted him were primarily in favor of building the high school.
Commissioner Wesley Wright said he was elected as a pro-school candidate and he wanted to do his part in completing the high school.
The Board took it to a vote and it was “yes” unanimously. The final meeting of the night and of the three-Board series was the IDB (Industrial Development Board) which followed the BOC.
Link to photo album of both meetings, BOC at 5:30 and IDB following BOC: https://photos.app.goo.gl/0byMg44RXPXuxAFu2