School/City seek accord on high school plans
By Michael Butler
The City of Tallassee and Tallassee City Schools are working together on plans for a new high school. There are still some loose ends on the project though.
"We've been working together to get to a common ground," mayor Johnny Hammock said. "The city council wanted a more detailed scope of work and a better timeline."
Dollars from a recent sales tax hike have been designated to go towards school improvements but are not necessarily written in stone.
"No one in their right mind would take that tax away, I don't think," Hammock said, "but you never know."
Tallassee superintendent Wade Shipman commented on the future of the project.
"It's a project of the board of education and the city council," Shipman noted. "They do have a say. It's meshing the two together. It's important as we move forward and look at the monies that we have that decisions we make don't impair our school system. That's part of the conservative nature of our board.
"We're not making a decision that puts our school system at risk today or even ten years from today. We're in a position where we want to move forward and put a plan together. We're still working towards that. We're not trying to close any doors."
Shipman discussed financing options.
"When you start negotiating for bonds and financial services, it's a specialized service." he said. "It may or may not have to be bid. We have worked with one particular person for a while on this project. It may be higher than somebody else if they came in right now. They're coming in a year or two years after a lot of work has already been done."
Hammock talked about exploring all bonding options.
"When I go buy a house or a car, I talk to several different banks," he pointed out. "They talked to one who said you can run it through the city with an A+ credit rating. You can probably save $750,000 on $13 or $14 million running it through the city."
"If it's about getting the best price, we can certainly look at that. Originally we had two primary bond companies we were looking at. We looked at local lenders as well. We're looking at 25 or 30 years for the larger amounts."
The question remains, will the project be financed through the school or the city?
"For us to run it through the city," Hammock stated, "that one cent sales tax that was put on in 1992 to do the elementary school and stayed on - that's how they have a reserve of $6 or $7 million - you're going to have to direct that back to the city if we're going to make the bond payment. We've got to take this one cent that creates about $1 million and this half of the other cent on the Elmore County side that creates about $350,000 are going to have to come to one of our accounts. We've got to make the bond payments and give them whatever is left."
If a new high school and other improvements on the campus go forward, the entire project would cost an estimated $30 million.
"Our budget changes every year," Shipman said. "This year we'll have the best education budget that we've ever had in Alabama. One of the last times they had that was in 2008. That followed up with three years of proration where we lost over 20 percent of our education budget.
"When I hear statements about if things happen, in education it's not about if - it's when. There are as many good budgets as bad budgets. They're just averaged out over 20 years. If we're asked to cut and reduce our budget to a certain degree right now, you're doing that with the best budget we'll ever have. We can't control a lot of aspects of what the state gives us every year. It's like seven years of feast and seven years of famine. We have to be very careful."