School board listens to citizens’ opinions
By Jeff Whitten
The McNairy County Board of Education heard audience preferences for the location of the new proposed Selmer Elementary School at a special called meeting on June 7.
Discussion of funding options also crept into the discussion, although they were beyond the scope of the meeting, which was called only to solicit citizen opinions on the site of the proposed new school.
Surveys were also distributed to the audience. Participants were asked to choose either the Highway 64 and 45 site or the Falcon Road and Bypass site or neither.
The survey also asked members of the audience if they would vote for a one-half cent sales tax increase, an extension of the $20 wheel tax or both, to pay for a new school.
People who responded to the survey were strongly in favor of the Falcon Road/Bypass site and of the wheel tax, according to a tabulation done by the Independent Appeal. The Falcon Road site was preferred by 18 or 69 percent of respondents, while the Highway 64 and 45 site was only picked by 8 people or 31 percent.
The wheel tax was favored by 15 or 68 percent, while the sales tax was only supported by 5 or 23 percent and both were favored by 2 people or 9 percent.
These results are consistent with an internet poll conducted earlier by County Commissioner Jeff Lipford.
In an unscientific poll of 150 people, mainly from responses to his webpage, 93 percent favored moving forward with constructing new elementary schools at Adamsville and Selmer.
Keeping the wheel tax in order to fund the building program was supported by 60 percent of respondents, while only 29 percent supported a one-half cent increase in the sales tax, 1 percent supported a property tax increase and 5 percent supported a combination of the three.
Over three-quarters of respondents said they would vote for keeping the wheel tax while only half said they would vote for the sales tax.
Only 13 percent said a property tax increase would be a viable option, while 84 percent said it would not.
“The issue we keep coming back to is utilities,” said school board chairman Larry Smith.
The only site other than the board's once favored site of Highway 64/45 that has utilities is the Falcon Road site, Smith said.
The discussion was limited to these two sites.
One consideration is that the 64/45 site has 16 acres devoted to the school and the rest of the 55 acres to commercial development, while the Falcon site has 74 acres.
Some members of the audience felt that the acreage of the 64/45 site is adequate for expansion.
Since the Falcon site is nearer the center of Selmer and the 64/45 site is in the northwest corner, one member of the audience asked if this would affect bus routes.
One audience member said it would be better to have the school nearer to town.
Others held the opinion that 64/45 was superior from a traffic flow standpoint.
Director of Schools Charlie Miskelly replied that it would a little bit.
Lewis Jernigan, one of the owners of the 64/45 property said the site will be developed and become a big part of Selmer.
“Selmer town is not going to remain on Main Street at the Courthouse. If this helps the community and the children, this is what we are trying to do,” he said.
“Every site has issues with it. We have tried to choose the site with the fewest issues,” said project architect Jev Vaughn.
In response to a question from Smith about whether drainage costs could be reduced, Vaughn said they could. If they raised the level of the building a foot or two, drainage pipes could be eliminated.
In response to questions from the audience, Smith said that there would be no difference. He added that the school could be completed one year after funding was secured.
“We can't finance it (the school building program) within our current budget,” said board member Tony Chapman.
Miskelly said that keeping the wheel tax would generate about $450,000 in and a one-half cent sales tax increase would raise about $750,000 in revenue.
Smith said the county could borrow $12.5 million under the current budget and build one school, but not two.
Chapman said that all cities would have to devote their half of the sales tax increase to the schools.
“That could be a problem,” he said.
He added that surrounding counties have a higher wheel tax than McNairy County does.
Chapman noted that McNairy County taxpayers have paid the Wheel Tax for 20 years for the Justice Center.
“We can manage to do it for 20 more years to go to the schools and not for the roads,” said Chapman.
He said we can find other funding for the roads.
“Education for our children is more important,” he said.
Board member Frank Lacey said that this issue was beyond the scope of the meeting and could not be addressed.
“We need to bring this to a close and and move to the next step,” he added.
Chapman agreed saying, “We need to do something at the next meeting.”
Smith said that the earliest any tax proposal could be put on the ballot is February, 2012.
What you can do: Complete the following survey and send it to:
McNairy County Board of Education
170 W. Court Ave.
Selmer, TN 38375
Which location do you prefer for the site of the new Selmer Elementary School?
Hwy 64 & 45_____
Falcon Rd. & Bypass___
Would you vote for either of the following to help finance a new school?
½ cent sales tax increase_____
Extension of the $20 wheel tax_______