By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen has postponed a request for approval of a $4.8 million bond issue to finance construction of a Performing Arts Center.
Board members took that action during their Nov. 13 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Bethany Huffman and seconded by Alderman Frankie Dakin.
The motion was passed by a 6-1 vote, with Alderman Mike Caruthers dissenting.
The board also voted to postpone approval of an Interfund Reimbursement Agreement with the Millington School Board, as well as that board’s Five-Year Master Plan.
The three items will not be reconsidered until the city board’s Feb. 12, 2018 meeting.
During discussion shortly before the votes, Alderman Don Lowry said he could not “in good conscience” vote for the bond issue when the Harvell Civic Center is “a functional facility already standing and in use.”
He said Millington’s No. 1 priority should be construction of a new elementary school to replace E. A. Harrold, because it is “unacceptable” to educate students in “portable buildings.”
Lowry recalled that, in September, the municipal school district conducted eight focus group sessions regarding its proposed Capital Projects initiative. But he said “not one” member of the city board or school board was “invited or included” in any of those meetings.
He noted that the focus group recommended roof repairs, drainage improvements and upgrades to the fire, security and intercom systems for Millington’s four schools.
Lowry said he would like to see all the city’s boards and commissions work together to set “common community priorities” and move in a “mutually agreed-upon direction” for the school system.
Caruthers said he wishes the proposed facility had never been called a Performing Arts Center, because it would actually be a new auditorium for Millington Central High School.
While noting that it was one of the “top priorities” of the Shelby County School System, he said it has been “tossed around” since before the Millington system was established.
Caruthers recalled that, in April, a majority of the local school board members rejected the lowest/best construction bid that was originally submitted. Then, they considered renovating the Civic Center.
But in September, the school board voted to re-advertise for bids on the Performing Arts Center. And it accepted a new bid last month, based on revised architectural plans.
Because it would be “less of a building” for a higher cost than was originally anticipated, Caruthers said further delay of the project would not be the best use of taxpayer money.
Citing the school board’s Five-Year Plan, Alderman Larry Dagen said he is “totally against” demolition of the Civic Center, which is currently being used by the school system. He also noted that the board modified the Plan earlier this month to “move up” the possible construction of a new elementary school to the 2019 fiscal year.
“So, I’d get behind them 100 percent in getting that done,” he said, “because that is an absolute, positive need.”
Dagen also recalled that, in 2009, the county school board was going to renovate the high school auditorium, not demolish it and construct a new one.
“That was before they came out and studied it,” Caruthers responded, “with all the mold problems that we had. So, there were several plans that were floated around.”
Dagen noted that, during the most recent work session involving the city board and school board, a question was posed about why the Performing Arts Center would be prioritized over a new school. He said the answer was that it has been “batted around for years.”
“That’s not good enough, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “What are our absolute needs vs. what we want to take place?”
While noting that he understands the “perspective” on both sides, Dakin said Millington’s residents elected a seven-member school board to make “wants and needs” decisions for them in the form of a Five-Year Plan. He also said he can think of “different uses for dollars” that might not always be in line with what the school board wants to do.
“I can make the argument to go ahead and build a new elementary school right now,” he said, “but that’s not the item that’s before us.”
Huffman said it is the city board’s job to make sure it can fund what the school board brings to it.
She noted that Millington is once again entering “historic, uncharted territory,” just like when it established its own school system.
For the first time, Huffman said, the city will have to obtain its own bond rating, and it does not know what that will be. She said the city board should do all its “homework” before making a “monumental” decision.
“The work session showed that we think we can afford it,” she said. “But that is dependent upon the bond rating we get and the funding that comes from outside sources, which means we have to have a five-year budget to go with this.”
In response to a question by Mayor Terry Jones, City Finance Director John Trusty estimated that it would take at least three months to get a rating.
“There’s a lot of data that we’d have to gather to submit,” he noted. “And that is not data that the city has ever gathered in the form that the bond rating agency will require.”
At its June 5 meeting, the school board unanimously approved its Capital Projects Budget for the 2018 fiscal year that includes a request for a $5 million bond issue.
Caruthers said he thought that was added to the current city budget when the city board approved it at its June 13 meeting.
But Trusty said that capital appropriation and the actual bond issue are contingent upon execution of the Interfund Reimbursement Agreement with the school board. He noted that the school board is required to identify the “specific purposes” for the appropriation before the city board adopts an initial resolution authorizing the “incurrence of indebtedness.”
By Bill Short