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Lakeland nixes adding Bolton, argues budget

Bolton annexation logoIn a lively work session Thursday, the Lakeland Board of Commissioners and mayor dismissed a long-debated annexation proposal, hotly debated many parts of the city budget in a page-by-page review, discussed school district growth costs, and strongly supported new funding to add personnel for the town’s senior center and Parks and Recreation Department. (See related stories here.)

Annexation decision

The contentious discussion about annexing parts of Bolton per some residents’ requests — and over the strong objections of others — was finally put to rest. The first feasibility study earlier this year found that large areas in the proposed scenarios 1 and 2 were not financially practical. Now, early results from the second feasibility study showed it would still be unprofitable for the town even if only including the most densely populated southwest corner of the Bolton rural reserve.

Jim Atkinson, Lakeland’s director of planning and administration, explained the outcome of the two scenarios analyzed in this second feasibility study:

  • Scenario 3 (Area A and part of Area B in the previous feasibility study, going a little above Millington Arlington Road). Capital expenditures would be $53,045 in the red the first year and $214,899 in the red after 15 years. The operating budget would be $67,954 in the red that first year and $2,080,158 in the red after 15 years.
  • Scenario 4 (comparable in size to Scenario 3). Capital expenditures would be $25,545 in the red the first year and $421,543 in the red after 15 years. The operating budget would be $62,292 in the red that first year and $1,989,019 in the red after 15 years.

For a detailed look at each scenario’s financial projections and demographics, click here for the PDF.

Mayor Wyatt Bunker, who originally supported the idea of annexation if it seemed practical for the city, was quick to accept the results. He talked about the costs of starting a new school system and dismissed the idea of annexation at this time.

“I just don’t see with negative forecasts like that it’s possible,” he said. “I really would urge the commissioners to go along with a resolution to not support going forward this initiative any more.”

The board agreed not to proceed with a referendum on the proposed annexation. A resolution to that effect will be on the next business meeting’s agenda..

Scenario 3

Scenario 3, from second Bolton annexation feasibility study.

Scenario 4

Scenario 4, from second Bolton annexation feasibility study

New school costs projected

School district superintendent Ted Horrell gave the board a preliminary look at the seven-year capital improvements plan he is creating, so they can begin thinking about expansion plans. He requested no action at this time.

With help from expert consultants, he projected what it would cost the district if the board chose to build the ideal facilities, if cost were not a factor:

  • Phase 1 — Middle school, approximately $16.66 million
  • Phase 2 — High school, $48 million n Total – $64,757,500

“Obviously, we acknowledge we know that cost is a factor,” Horrell emphasized. “The thing we wanted to do was to present this to the city manager and give him the opportunity to begin gathering some data on the fiscal impact on building one or more of these buildings and seeing this capital improvement plan through.”

Horrell also mentioned the happy and successful ribbon cutting and open house at Lakeland Elementary School on June 3, when the property transferred from Shelby County Schools to the Lakeland School System.

Flag raising at Lakeland Elementary School, June 3, 2014

Lakeland Elementary students help with the flag-raising ceremony at June 3’s ribbon cutting and open house, when the new school district received keys to the property.
Photo by Kyle Whitfield

Senior Center, Parks & Rec

Supporters of the Lakeland Senior Center again asked the board to support funding for a part-time director at a projected cost of $12,000 annually and the establishment of regular facility hours. (See the previous story here.) Several mentioned the benefits of using the facility, pointing out that the mayor’s own father enjoys using it.

Commissioner and vice mayor Sherri Gallick suggested that senior citizens be asked to chip in a small fee, such as $12-$15 per year, to help with costs.

Senior center supporter Marie Well agreed, saying that all centers in surrounding communities charge a comparable fee.

Another Lakeland resident, Bill Rose, criticized the park conditions as an “absolute disgrace” and hinted that underfunding the Parks and Recreation Department and the senior center would hurt the city’s bottom line.

Lakeland won’t have money for its new school system if people stop moving there, he said.

Jean Hamilton of Lakeland said that senior citizens comprise 30 percent of Lakeland’s population, and the funding request is modest.

All commissioners had positive comments about the senior center and its funding request.

The mayor said he also sees the senior center as a positive and he values the parks, but he remains intensely focused on the budgetary bottom line and the danger that budget increases might cause a tax increase.

He repeatedly emphasized the slippery slope of making even modest budget increases that the city is not required to make.

He also referred to board members who, along with him, made promises not to raise taxes, and commissioner Clark Plunk visibly bristled at the remark and responded, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what I said during the campaign.”

Bunker continued bucking the wave of approval for the senior center and parks funding. He said laws require roads/bridge maintenance and school funding — which are among the city’s truly essential services.

“We have limited funds in Lakeland,” he said, adding that not everyone wants to hear that.

He continued, “We could talk about the things we need and want all night. … I just feel that spending priorities have to be in place at all times for all things.”

He also said he doesn’t want to hire a parks and recreation director until the city has developed facilities for him or her to manage.

He summed up his views on the uncertainty and costs of funding the school system, as well as the need to pare down the town’s costs as much as possible elsewhere, stating, “One of the biggest areas of neglect in government is failing to look forward and see what’s coming down the road.”

Commissioner Gallick said, “There is more than schools in a community.” She cited compliant and safe parks, a Parks and Recreation Director to manage the parks and drive the Keep Lakeland Beautiful, and a part-time senior center director.

Budget points

The commissioners took exception to several points in the proposed budget, and city manager Chris Thomas will make revisions based on their comments. The revised budget will be presented at the next board meeting. The board argued multiple points, including:

  • A 3 percent across-the-boards raise for town employees. Bunker said he wants the town to set pay ranges for those positions and develop a system for merit-based raises.
  • Inclusion of funds as placeholders for positions that may or may not be added later in the year; the budget can be amended as needed as the year continues.
  • The omission of funds for resurfacing; the current budget proposal only includes money for fixing street cracks and patching potholes. City manager Thomas agree that a real road survey is needed but time will be required to conduct that.
  • What to do with an extra $2 being charged per household above costs for the newly revised solid waste program. The board’s consensus seemed to be to put the extra funds in a reserve fund until a full year of the new program has completed, instead of immediately lowering the fee. (The current rate is $24.70 per month, versus the actual operational cost of $22.)

During the lengthy discussions on the budget and the amendment and approval process, the mayor also criticized board members for sending budget questions to the city manager instead of properly sending them to him..

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Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to carolyn.bahm@journalinc.com.

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