by Mel Griffith
We hear a lot about spending and borrowing in Washington, but we are facing some of the same problems here in Bradley County. Beginning in 1998 the county has conducted a major building program. In the past thirteen years this has produced three new schools, expansions and renovations at existing schools, a new jail and new justice center. There were also substantial improvements in the city school system with the city's share of the school money. Some of these improvements were paid for with money on hand, but the largest part was done with borrowed money. Bradley County has now used up all its credit and can not borrow any more money without raising taxes. There is no relief in sight, as payments on our debt will not be going down very much for several years.
Now there are projections that there will be a large increase in the Bradley County population in the coming years. This has led the school system to plan for additional schools. If they are to be built, the money will have to be borrowed and taxes increased to pay off the debts. Should we raise taxes to fund these requests? I don't think so, but I don't think all the other commissioners agree with me. First, I don't believe we should raise anyone's taxes in this economy. While many believe that things will improve soon,
others talk about a double-dip recession. We need to wait and see. Second, the school system is not currently in a growth spurt. During the first half of the past decade, the school system grew at the rate of about a hundred students a year. In the past four years, it has grown about 60 students, a rate of fifteen a year. While the system has grown by 60 students in the last four years, it has been able to add classroom space for nearly 500 students with the new school at Park View and an addition at Valley View.
It is also important to remember that projections of rapid population growth are simply guesses which may or may not come true. It is a good thing for the school system to have plans ready to deal with large increases in student population, but we must keep those plans on the shelf until we see what happens. We cannot raise taxes and spend millions of dollars of borrowed money based on speculation.