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Commission approves project, rejects its funding source, then reconsiders both

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By PETER SAWYER

Tuesday, the county commission had to reconsider two of its actions after approving a board of education project and then voting down its funding source.

The 14 budget resolutions the budget and finance committee passed Jan. 14 included a board of education project involving the installation of solar panels at nine schools. The BOE previously approved the project. The energy gathered by the solar panels will be sold to TVA at the current TVA rate of 11.6 cents per KW, Campbell County Finance Director Jeff Marlow said. TVA will also reimburse the school system 12 cents per KW in rebate, Marlow said.

Installing the solar panels costs about $1.3 million. In order to finance the installation of the panels, the budget and finance committee approved a bond resolution that would allow the BOE to debt service the project for 15 years.

The commission approved the project along with the 13 other budget resolutions on Tuesday night. Commissioner Rusty Orick made the motion to approve budget resolutions 1-1 through 1-14. Commissioner Terry Singley seconded his motion. The motion passed with nine yes votes. Commissioners Charles Baird, Beverly Hall, Tom Hatmaker and Sue Nance voted no. Commissioners Bob Walden and Steve Rutherford were absent.

When it came time to approve the first of two bond resolutions that would finance the project, some commissioners raised questions about the project.

Davis mentioned he had heard questions about the validity of the solar panels.

“It might be that we ought to hold off on voting on that until we get a little more information,” he said.

“Fifteen years from now, what do you think these computers are gonna be?” Hatmaker asked Marlow. “They’re gonna be outdated. These solar panels are gonna be the same thing.”

“I don’t know if I agree with your assessment,” Marlow said. He mentioned staff from the Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program would give a presentation before the next budget and finance committee meeting. They would answer such questions he said.

Commissioner Marie Ayers attempted to clear up confusion. While the resolution, passed earlier in the evening, only approved installing solar panels at the nine sites requested by the BOE, which would cost $1.3 million, the initial bond resolution’s language included “not to exceed $2.3 million.” The county is considering a second phase to the project that will cost an additional $1 million. The second phase of the project would involve installing solar panels at three additional schools and six county buildings. The energy harvested at these buildings will also be sold at the current TVA rate of 11.36 cents per KW, but TVA will reimburse the county and the school system 9 cents per KW on rebate, Marlow had said at the budget and finance committee meeting on Jan. 14.

However, by approving the initial bond resolution, the commission wouldn’t commit the county to pay $1 million to install solar panels at the additional three schools and six county buildings, Ayers said. That project must be approved first. The reason for approving the bond issuance as one resolution instead of two is to save the county $60,000, Ayers said.

Until the commission approves the next phase of the project, the county isn’t committed to repay anything, Marlow said. The BOE has assumed all the risk for the $1.3 million project. However, the BOE needed the commission to approve the bond resolution.

“How can we guarantee the BOE will be responsible for these bonds?” Nance asked.

A resolution guarantees the BOE will debt service these bonds for 15 years, Marlow said, referring to a resolution passed by the BOE at a Jan. 8 meeting.

The motion to approve the initial bond resolution failed to receive the necessary eight votes. Singley made the motion to approve the initial bond resolution, and commissioner David Adkins seconded it. It only received seven yes votes and six no votes. Bailey, Charles Baird, Davis, Hall, Hatmaker and Nance voted no.

“We probably need some guidance on what to do in relation to the project,” Marlow said after the vote. “The budget amendment is approved. And it is not contingent on the debt (obligation) being passed.”

Marlow asked for a recess.

“Is it something you can’t discuss with us?” Hatmaker immediately asked.

Before the recess, commissioner Rusty Orick made a motion to reconsider the commission’s action on budget resolutions 1-1 through 1-14. Hatmaker seconded the motion. The motion passed with nine yes votes. Adkins, Bruce, Hatmaker and White voted no.

After the recess, the commission again voted on all 14 budget resolutions. Singley made the motion, and White seconded it.

“Redo all we just had?” Davis asked. “That’s what we had.”

The motion barely passed, receiving the required eight yes votes. Charles Baird, Davis, Hall, Hatmaker, Nance and Orick voted no.

The commission voted to reconsider its action on the initial bond resolution.

“I had a call a minute ago, said the solar panels had already been delivered,” Hatmaker said before the votes were cast. “Thought I’d tell y’all that.”

The motion passed with nine yes votes. Davis, Halls, Hatmaker and Nance voted no.

A motion again was made to approve the initial bond resolution not to exceed $2.3 million.

“This would only go up to $1.3 million at this point,” Marlow reassured the commission.

The motion sneaked by, receiving the minimum of eight yes votes. Charles Baird, Davis, Hall, Hatmaker and Nance voted no. Bailey changed his vote to a yes vote.

Hatmaker asked recorder Mary Heatherly to read how each commissioner voted for the bond resolution the first and second time.

The commission also approved the authorizing bond resolution not to exceed $2.3 million. It received nine yes votes. Charles Baird, Davis, Hall and Nance votes no.

The commission approved a resolution to acknowledge the receipt of debt transfer. This acknowledged the BOE was the party responsible for the debt service payments, Marlow said. The resolution was approved with 13 yes votes.