Home City Staff BOC last night: Tax rate stays at $1.89 for now, City Attorney...

BOC last night: Tax rate stays at $1.89 for now, City Attorney fired, 25 items approved, 3 deferred

In just short of four hours, the BOC (Board of Commissioners) last night (6.26.19) voted 3 to 2 to table an ordinance reducing the new tax rate and terminated the contract of City Attorney Mike Marshal and his firm, Evans Petree PC.

Link to agenda: https://tn-lakeland.civicplus.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/854

Link to Livestream:  https://livestream.com/lakeland/events/8730929

The ordinance was to amend the Fiscal Year 2019-20 tax rate passed May 19 which increased the $1.25 current tax rate to $1.89 to cover the cost of financing a high school in Lakeland through a CON (Capital Outlay Note) of $35 million.

Attendees at Wednesday BOC meeting

During a May 28th meeting, Commissioners parallel-approved two items:  The tax increase to support a CON loan for 12 years and application for a 40-year USDA loan for $40 million to fund a high school.  The caveat was that the USDA loan option would allow Lakeland citizens to petition for a referendum on the loan within 20 days.  The 20-day deadline passed June 20th with no petition filed and allowing the USDA loan application to begin. The plan was to lower the tax rate when the USDA loan was approved.

Believing the “drop dead” date to submit a new tax rate to the Shelby County Trustee was Oct. 1st, Commissioners were surprised to learn the due date is actually July 15th.

Confirmation on the USDA loan is not expected before August, maybe not until September, according to City Manager Shane Horn.  With no assurance of the USDA loan approval, three of the five commissioners were unwilling to give up the CON option on financing a high school which goes hand-in-hand with the tax increase. If approval on the USDA loan is received in a matter of days and not months, Vice Mayor Josh Roman said he would be fine with lowering the tax rate back to $1.25, thus meeting the Trustee’s deadline of July 15th.

Regina Morrison Newman, Trustee, said to commissioners that her office must have the City tax rate no later than July 15th to be loaded into the Shelby County system.  To make any changes after that date, she said, would require manual adjustments to 5,600 parcels.  And the cost could be $50,000 conservatively to the City.

“If it were me,” said Ms. Newman,” I’d pass a budget on the current tax rate.”  She suggested the City might then have a surplus and could later set the tax rate lower.  Of the manual adjustments, she said, ”I’m not saying we can’t do it.  But it would be a heck of a lot of work.”

Mr. Horn said he is convinced the USDA option is the most viable and although there is a lot of paperwork involved, officials with USDA are excited to get this closed up, he said.

Mayor Mike Cunningham said he met with Mr. Horn about the USDA loan and he signed all the forms, checked and signed the boxes.  “I’ve signed every one of them.  I think it’s the right thing to do.”  He asked his fellow commissioners to take a leap of faith that the USDA loan will be approved and move the tax rate down.  This is the right solution, he said, the healing component.

Mayor Mike Cunningham

He added, if something did happen to the USDA loan, the Board could pull the CON out of a back pocket and go back to the $1.89 tax rate.

Commissioner Richard Gonzales Jr.

Commissioner Richard Gonzales Jr.

said the folks in his camp (referring to his supporters from the November 2018 election) took a leap of faith on agreeing to the USDA loan and building a high school.  He said he was confident the USDA funding mechanism for the high school would work.

Vice Mayor Roman made the motion to table the ordinance saying there has been an effort to fund a complete school system for Lakeland for over seven years.  In December, he said, we started a conversation for three to five consecutive meetings.

Vice Mayor Josh Roman

“I felt the CON was the best route to go, to pay off as soon as possible.  That took us to the May meeting and taking action.”

The Vice Mayor said Mayor Cunningham learned about the USDA loan in March and only introduced it to commissioners in May.

Commissioner Michele Dial questioned how soon the USDA loan might be closed. Mr. Horn said Aug. 1st will be hard to meet but it should be wrapped up by September.

Commissioner Wesley Wright asked could there be some sort of pre-approval from USDA, something in writing.  Mr. Horn said he was not aware of any pre-approval.  City Finance Director Kyle Wright suggested a letter of commitment might be available.

Mrs. Dial asked could the City talk to the USDA folks in two weeks and then make a decision about the tax rate.  Mr. Horn said there has to be seven days between first and second readings of an ordinance.

Commissioner Michele Dial

Vice Mayor Roman said he appreciated the passionate plea about the tax rate.  But, he said, the Mayor learned about the USDA funding in March and he went to the Tennessee Comptroller to smear the name of Lakeland and he is now asking  for trust.        Link to story of Mayor asking for a forensic audit of the City: https://lakelandcurrents.com/boc-meeting-tonight-a-slew-of-resolutions-minutes-controversy-and-a-call-for-forensic-audit-of-city-school-system/

The Mayor responded by saying he went to the Comptroller in December or January before the USDA funding information was available to him in April, not March.

Vice Mayor Roman and Commissioners Dial and Wright voted yes to table the ordinance with Mayor Cunningham and Commissioner Gonzales voting no.

Lakeland currently has two schools serving grades K-8 with high school students attending Arlington High School through an interlocal between the two cities.

City Attorney

Resolution #28 was added to the agenda by Vice Mayor Roman for discussion and possible action on Mr. Marshall and his law firm who was approved by the BOC Feb. 7th to replace Chris Patterson who resigned Jan. 15th.

Mike Marshall

He said Mr. Marshall was to represent all the commissioners and he didn’t believe some of his responses were professional.  The Vice Mayor added he didn’t feel his complaints to Mr. Marshall, the City’s ethics officer, about possible ethics violations were property vetted.  The motion to terminate the contract was three voting yes with Mayor Cunningham and Commissioner Gonzales abstaining.

Eagle Scout recognized

Tyler Skovdal was given a proclamation by the Mayor for his work with Lakeland parks.

Tyler Skovdal with the Mayor

Public discussion

Nine addressed the BOC on topics from a development from East Side Baptist Church, to high school funding to the proposed ALDI grocery store.

New School Board member

Jeremy Burnett

Jeremy Burnett was appointed to fill the remaining term of Geoff Hicks on the Lakeland School Board.  Mr. Hicks moved from Lakeland this month.  Commissioner Gonzales said he believed that Mr. Burnett, as a school board member, would be considered a City employee and should step down from his volunteer position on the Economic Development Commission/Industrial Development Board (EDC/IDB).  There was some discussion about this but Mr. Burnett said he would be willing to step down from his volunteer post.

Security cameras in the City

The Board approved a free one-month trial of a security camera to be placed at Fletcher Trace Parkway and U.S. Highway 64.  Nicklaus Bloom with Flock Safety said the cameras provide a full vehicle fingerprint which capture the make and model of a vehicle along with the license plate.  After the one-month trial, it will be up to commissioners to decide about buying one or more of the cameras at an annual cost of $2,000 each.  The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Wright.

Commissioner Wesley Wright

Treasurer’s report, amendment to Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget

Finance Director Wright explained the amendment include $53,000 in legal fees (litigation against the City), debt service fees and $67,000 in solid waste fees including contamination fees for recycling.  For the May 2019 reporting period, he said there are a few line items over budget.

Sewerage Commission

Two resolutions were passed for approval of sewer concept plans for East Side Planned Development and The Collection at Lakeland.

29 Agenda items – 25 approved – Budget ordinance tabled

Three items were deferred:

  • A facility encroachment agreement with CSX Transportation, Inc. for the Clear Creek Interceptor Project
  • A development contract for The Lake District
  • A $30,000 City match for an EDGE grant for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce

The IDB legal services contract was amended to include Will Patterson of Wiseman Bray PLLC.  The vote was 3 yes with Mayor Cunningham and Commissioner Gonzales abstaining.

Also approved was a contract with Watkins Uiberall PLLC to audit City financials for the year ending June 30th.  Commissioner Gonzales asked if they could be directed to audit specific areas or departments of the City and the finance director said that was not allowed.

… Photos, video by Jim Willis, Lakeland Currents.