OPINION: Two Views on the April 16 Lakeland Bond Vote

Early Voting Underway Through April 11

 

Residents of the City of Lakeland have been divided on the question of building a joint middle and high school–and its financing through a $0.55 property tax increase and bond issue–for the past eight months.  Sometimes civil, and occasionally heated, discussions have raged on social media and in public meetings on the topics, pitting neighbor against neighbor and leading to a crop of  yard signs encouraging residents to “Vote Yes for Lakeland” and “Vote No Bond.”

So now, it is up to the voters of Lakeland to decide. With 13 days of early voting (March 27-April 11) before election day on April 16, voter turnout could see a record high. As part of our mission to inform, educate, and connect our community, we contacted the Lakeland School Board and the Concerned Citizens of Lakeland.  We invited each group to submit a 500 word editorial to explain to our readers why they should–or shouldn’t–vote in favor of the bond issue. Each essay is presented below in its entirety. The content was not edited and reflects the opinion of the author, not The View 38002.

 

Early Voting and Polling Information, Including Location Changes for Election Day

Background to a Vote

After plans for a new school were first revealed in April 2014, the Lakeland School Board approved a $50 million, five year Capital Improvement Plan to build “Lakeland Prep,” a combined middle and high school, on July 7, 2014.  On October 14, 2014, a full house was present for the Lakeland Board of Commissioner’s  unanimous vote to approve a $0.55 special property tax solely for the retirement of school bond debt.

Lakeland City Manager Jim Atkinson explained that although the tax increase has been approved by the Board of Commissioners, it is will not yet official. “When the [2015-2016] budget is approved in June,” Atkinson said, “the property tax rate that is set will include the $0.55 increase retroactive to January 1, 2015.”

The Board of Commissioners authorized the issuance of  up to $50 million in general obligation school bonds at the December 11, 2014 meeting. An attempt by Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker to substitute a resolution calling for a special election on the school bond issue failed when it didn’t receive any support from the Commissioners. Bunker then abstained from voting on the bond issuance. Under Tennessee law, a public vote on a proposition for the issuance of general obligation bonds is not necessary, unless 10% of the registered voters of the municipality file a petition in protest of the issuance of bonds within 20 days of the public notice.

According to information received from the Shelby County Election Commission, the notice from the initial resolution was published on December 16, 2014. Lakeland had 8,272 as of December 16, 2015, and therefore the petition needed 827 signatures of registered voters residing in Lakeland to be delivered to the City of Lakeland within 20 days, or by January 5, 2015. The petition and signatures were delivered to Lakeland as required and subsequently the City of Lakeland delivered them to the Shelby County Election Commission on January 6, 2015.

On January 13, the Shelby County Election Commission certified enough valid signatures on the protest petition to require a special election. A majority vote by Lakeland residents will be required to approve the issuance of bonds for the joint middle/high school project. According to a news release from the Shelby County Election Commission, the City of Lakeland will reimburse the Shelby County Election Commission for the cost of holding the election, which is estimated to be $50,000.

Will you invest in Lakeland’s future?
By Josh Roman

Lakeland is at a crossroads in deciding our community’s fate.  We have a choice to lay the groundwork for a prosperous future built on the solid rock of a world class education, or we can continue kicking the can down the road until this opportunity passes us by. We are a city with only so many resources and it is true we can only handle so much of a debt burden, but guess what? Because of low interest rates, a favorable construction environment and our current low property tax rate, we have the needed resources to pull this thing off. Yes, this is a perfect storm for little Lakeland to compete with the big boys around us.

The time is now to secure permanent local control of education and thereby be able to compete with Collierville and Germantown for the families that put such a high price on quality education as the way to continue pushing their family tree upward towards financial and creative freedom.  It is these high valued roof tops that will attract quality businesses.

It is not just a new school that we are offering current and prospective families.  This Lakeland Prep school will foster a sense of community starting with an elementary school that tops all of Shelby County in gifted children.  These kids and families will no longer be spread out between three school systems.  They will all be unified moving through life together sharing experiences and memories of their time in our city….. Yes Our City.  When families think about where they live, they will no longer describe it as out towards Arlington but will project Lakeland proudly.  This will definitely come at a cost…about $30 per month per household on average, but how much will the alternative cost us?  I believe that never seeing Garner’s dream of a family friendly Lakeland would be a bigger tragedy.

Current and past administrations preserved our scenery and positioned our finances perfectly to take on debt when the time was right.  That time is now.  If we wait until interest rates tick up just ¼ of a point, that adds $3 Million to the project.  If the economy continues its recovery and construction prices go up, that too will add to the project.  Taking a wait and see approach will likely result in increased costs, possibly taking Lakeland Prep completely off the table.  There is no debate that Arlington Middle School has 6 portable buildings and is overcrowded.  I commend their staff for the excellent job they are doing.  Arlington Community Schools is in on record stating that they will wait and see what Lakeland does before they commit to capital improvements.  Do you really think Arlington is going to raise taxes to educate our kids?  Should we even put them in that position?  No the time is now to seize this opportunity and move Lakeland forward.

We can Vote Yes for the only choice that puts Lakeland on our own path to prosperity.   Vote yes for Lakeland’s future….. Your future.

For more information, visit yesforlakeland.com

Last Chance To Vote Against Unlimited Tax Increases
By Mike Shideler

When Memphis City Schools dissolved their charter, Lakeland was the only city unable to form an Independent School District (ISD) due to lack of facilities and the inability to educate the required number of students in Lakeland.  Arlington saved the day and in 2013 the Mayors signed a 7-Year agreement, using a provision of the TN Education Cooperation Act allowing us to form our own district by partnering with Arlington.

There was still doubt among Lakeland citizens regarding the wisdom of forming an ISD without the required and tremendously expensive school buildings.  To counter this doubt, a campaign was waged by a group calling itself ‘Vote Yes Lakeland’ assuring everyone there would be no need to build schools immediately or for further tax increases[1].  At the helm of this group were 4 of the current 5 School Board members[2].

Early in 2014, the ‘Vote Yes’ controlled Lakeland School Board renegotiated the 7-Year agreement with Arlington[3].  They were able to achieve numerous improvements, but strangely also insisted on a 3-Year ‘opt out’ clause.  This effectively changed it to a 3-Year agreement, placing great uncertainty on Arlington, the same community that had enabled us to form our own ISD.  Almost immediately after negotiating this new agreement, these same people presented their plan for ‘Lakeland Prep’ – a $50,000,000 school for grades 6-12.

Concurrent with this plan was a sudden disdain for Arlington, its schools, its School Board and elected officials.  Where before “cooperation” was the buzzword, now “competition” became their mantra.  With student numbers identical to or less than 2012-2013 when they waged their ‘Vote Yes Lakeland’ campaign, Arlington schools were now “overcrowded”.  They cited this as justification for immediate building and increasing Lakeland’s total General Obligation Debt level by 870%.  General Obligation debt (G.O. Debt) is guaranteed only by the government’s ability to tax.

Lakeland is not alone just in its lack of school buildings, it also stands alone in Shelby County that its debt policy has no limitations on G.O. Debt.  Every other municipality has limits placed on the amount of G.O. Debt their city can issue.  Applying the reasonable debt limitations of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville or Germantown demonstrate how unsustainable this plan really is.  If we followed their sensible debt control policies, Lakeland could only afford $4,000,000 at the low end and $9,000,000 at the high end – a far cry from the $50,000,000 City officials are trying to borrow.

With no debt controls and the bond backed only by the city’s ability to raise property taxes, the “unlimited ad valorem taxes” clause on the ballot should frighten everyone.  Voting ‘Yes’ is permanent.  Voting ‘No’ is temporary and simply puts a pause on this particular plan.  With over six years remaining on the agreement and Arlington wanting to extend it to fifteen years, we have plenty of time to explore other options and avoid a financially disastrous choice simply due to rushing now.

For more information, visit www.concernedcitizensoflakeland.com

[1]http://electmattwright.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Vote-Yes-Lakeland-Press-Release.pdf

[2] http://lakelandk12.org/about/board/

[3] http://tn-lakeland.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/3185

Voting Information:

2015-03-25 13.09.02Early Voting
Dates: March 27th – April 11th
Times: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Location: Lakeland Elementary, 10500 Oak Seed Lane

Early voting will be held from March 27 through April 11th, Monday through Saturday, from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm, with the exception of Good Friday. There will not be any early voting at the downtown Memphis location.

At Lakeland Elementary School, all voters will enter the driveway just east of the school building (to the right when facing the school) leading to the faculty/staff parking lot. Directional signs will be posted and visible from all sides of Oak Seed Lane. The 35 parking spaces closest to the gymnasium will be blocked off and reserved for voters during the school day.

During the hours of 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. (student arrival) and 3:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. (student dismissal), school personnel will assist with directing traffic and ensuring a smooth voting experience.

Regular Voting
Date: April 16th
Times: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Location: All Lakeland voters will cast their election day ballot at one of two sites.
Lakeland residents who normally vote at Arlington Middle School or Oak Spring Baptist Church will vote at the First Baptist Church of Lakeland for this election only.
First Baptist Church of Lakeland
4500 Canada Road
St. Paul United Methodist Church
2949 Davies Plantation Road

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