Supervisors choose not to give school board direction within 60 days

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford County’s supervisors decided, Monday night, to further postpone making a decision on what school construction option they will support in the Liberty attendance zone.
    The supervisors had been presented a series of school construction options at a joint meeting with the school board on Jan. 28. At that time, the supervisors asked for 60 days to make a decision. With the end of the 60 days approaching, Board Chairman John Sharp placed the issue to the supervisors for a decision.
    The supervisors were unanimous, with District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington absent, in their desire to further postpone a decision.
    “There is no way I can make a decision on the direction we need to take,” said District 3 Supervisor Steve Wilkerson.
    Wilkerson said there has been no discussion about funding.

    “I am not prepared to make any decision at this time,” he said.
    District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker agreed with Wilkerson adding that she has not seen any reversion money set aside for the new school.
    “You’re talking about a sizable tax increase,” said District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson. He said a majority of the citizens in his district do not want a tax increase.
    District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin said he has received a lot of e-mails from his constituents on the issue, without a majority emerging to back any one option. Some want the existing schools “redone.”
    “I have no problem building a new high school if people don’t want to gripe about raising taxes,” he said. He added that perhaps it’s time for the county to raise taxes so that people who are moving here due to the low tax rate will “go somewhere else and not live off us for free.”
    District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard said that the school board originally wanted a new middle school.
    “Now they come to us with two other options they want,” she said. “We thought we were going to build a middle school.”
    She also said that the school board had agreed, three years ago, that all the reversion money would go to capital improvements.
    “If they want to move forward with a high school, using that money, I’m willing to support it,” she said.
    Sharp said that a new middle school became part of the reversion agreement because the school board did not consider renovating Bedford Middle School to be a wise investment. He noted that the agreement under which the county leases Bedford Middle School will cause the lease fee to eventually escalate. This was to prevent a decision on building a school to be put off indefinitely. It also allows the town to contain the costs involved in maintaining the building.
    Like Pollard, Sharp said the school board had agreed to use the reversion money for capital improvements. However, other things came up that absorbed it.
    He’s concerned about whether the reversion money will actually materialize.
    “It’s all subject to appropriation,” he said.
    Sharp said he doesn’t want to “kick the can down the road,” then recommended waiting a year, before making a decision, in order to have a better financial picture.
    “I have to take into account the financial picture,” he said. “You have to remember that, when we raise taxes, we take that money by force.”
    “It sounds like we do not have a recommendation,” Sharp concluded.