Lakeland hashes out details of school funding

The Lakeland city board met for more than three and a half hours in a July 9 work session to hash out details of the $20 million funding for the new middle school, whether to take partial ownership of a county road, possible trash contract changes, the priorities in road paving, and control of door-to-door sales in the city limits, among other issues.

Middle school funding

cost-of-educationLakeland will borrow $20 million through the issuance of general obligation capital outlay notes to help pay for design and construction of the city’s new middle school, if the funding resolution is approved at the board’s July 21 business meeting. Repayment would be over 12 years. Capital outlay notes do not require a referendum.

Lauren Lowe, financial analyst for the PFM consulting firm, said current interest rates would be about 2.92 to 3 percent, and the market has been relatively stable. At 3 percent, the cumulative interest cost would be about $4.5 million over the life of the loan, assuming there is no prepayment or refinancing.

She explained that the goal with these capital outlay notes is to preserve as much prepayment ability as possible without incurring excessive expenses. As it stands currently, the sweet spot is about seven and one-half years into the project for the city to prepay if that’s feasible at the time.

She asked for the flexibility to evaluate the market when it’s closer to the date that the notes are actually issued. This would allow her to determine whether the city could get more aggressive and go with five years rather than the current seven and one-half years.

City manager Jim Atkinson said at a 5 percent interest rate the project would cost the equivalent of a $0.72 property tax rate per $100 of Lakeland homes’ assessed value. (That number comes from the new $0.55 property tax increase approved June 11, the original $0.10 property tax allocated for schools in 2012, and the $0.08 property tax equivalent of a half-cent sales tax allocated for schools in 2012. That adds up to $0.73, and usage of one penny of the amount has not been designated yet.)

If the interest rate is around 3 percent, as currently anticipated, the cost would be the equivalent of a $0.65 property tax rate, Atkinson said.

City finance director Jessica Millspaugh said the July 21 meeting will also include first reading of an ordinance amending the 2015-16 budget. The amendment will include the $20 million in general fund revenue and expenditures to be transferred to the school system for the middle school project.

Commissioner Randy Nicholson once again objected to the use of 12-year capital outlay notes for the school, preferring a 20- or 30-year bond issuance that would cost less annually but more overall than the capital outlay note method.

Trash contract

The city’s contract with Republic Services has dropped from $15.54 monthly per household to $14.94, based on a drop in fuel costs. The board agreed that many citizens want to add unlimited yard waste pickup, which would add $3.80 per household. The change might require a third pickup date (in addition to the dates for recycling and regular trash pickups).
Commissioner Gene Torrey also suggesting giving citizens the option of bringing their extra yard waste to the rolloff (a large blue dumpster) behind city hall. The board will hold a discussion with Republic on the cost of the city’s trash pickup needs at the July 21 board meeting.

Road paving

Citizens are quick to call city hall when roads near their home are in poor condition, and Lakeland has gotten its fair share of such calls.

“Road paving has been a big issue, obviously,” Atkinson said. “Now, we haven’t done a lot of paving in the past.”

Two recently completed projects were at Lakeland Estates (Pine Point Road) and Chapel Hill Road (off Chambers Chapel Road) in the budget year that closed June 30. They were rated as the worst roads in a recent Municipal Technol-ogy Advisory Service (MTAS) study that evaluated and prioritized the repair needs of each Lakeland street on a 1-10 scale (with 1 being the worst). The study also estimated the cost for repairs or repaving.

The list prioritizes both minor repairs and full repaving projects.

The MTAS prioritized roads list will be posted on the city’s website soon, probably after the July 21 board meeting, Atkinson said.

Many Lakeland streets were rated a 3, and Public Works is now reviewing which of those can be completed within the city’s budget this fiscal year.

Atkinson expects to make recommendations to the board at its August work session. He estimated that it will take Lakeland five to 10 years to repave the most troublesome streets.

County road maintenance

Chambers Chapel Road between Arlington and Lakeland.
Shelby County will no longer maintain Chambers Chapel Road and now expects Lakeland and Arlington to divvy up responsibilities and take over. Photo by Amanda Swain

Shelby County is now refusing to continue maintenance on Chambers Chapel Road, which has been a county road for decades in unincorporated Shelby County. The county’s rationale is that the road is bounded on one side by land that Lakeland annexed and land that Arlington annexed on the other side; there is no longer any county land adjoining the road.

Nicholson lives on the road himself and said, “The county has been maintaining it — very poorly — for the last 30 years.”

Torrey agreed with Nicholson, saying the first mile and a half of Chambers Chapel Road north of U.S. 64 is an “obstacle course.” He also noted that it’s been a county road since Chambers Chapel United Methodist Church was founded in 1869.

The July 21 Lakeland city board meeting will have a resolution on the agenda, authorizing Lakeland mayor Wyatt Bunker to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Arlington on maintenance of the road and its ditches.

The recommended division of responsibilities would be for Arlington to take on maintenance of everything north of U.S. 64 to Sumac Road, and Lakeland would take care of the road north of Sumac to Lakeland city limits, Atkinson said. Each municipality would be responsible for the ditch on its side of the road.

Gallick and Torrey suggested getting the county to repair the road before handing it over to the cities for maintenance. Torrey also wants the county to clear out the ditches.

No solicitation

An alarm company’s attorney notified the city that Lakeland’s code prohibiting door-to-door solicitation is probably illegal under state and federal laws protecting “commercial speech,” Lakeland attorney Chris Patterson said.

Individuals can put their property off limits, but municipalities cannot do so for the citizens, he said.

The company proposed making an exception for alarm system sales, but that would probably just buy time until the next company asks for an exception, Patterson said.

Gallick suggested setting up an approval process and IDs for legitimate vendors. Torrey asked if home owner associations (HOAs) can make blanket prohibitions against door-to-door sales.

Torrey also proposed setting up an opt-in citywide “do not solicit” list of homeowners who do not want to have any door-to-door solicitations from commercial businesses. That list could be provided to companies selling in the Lakeland area.

“I don’t like the idea of an alarm company putting their finger in my chest and telling us, ‘We need to come on, or else,’” Torrey said. “I think that’s wrong.”

Patterson said he will do research for further discussion at the next board meeting.

Chamber issues

While discussing annual funding of $18,000 to the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC), the mayor and board aired grievances with Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC) president Ken Lipkowitz. The primary issue was the board’s desire for more communications about how funds are spent, invitations to chamber business meetings, and businesses interested in coming to Lakeland.

Gallick said she also wants to see the chamber take strong stances and champion community projects such as the recently outvoted $50 million bond for a combined middle/high school.

Torrey suggested cutting the LACC funding by one-third until communications improve. But on Atkinson’s suggestion, the board seemed willing to accept a three-month period of addressing issues and re-evaluation of funding instead of making the immediate budget cut.

Lipkowitz thanked the mayor and board for the feedback and gave them a standing invitation to the chamber’s meetings, held from noon until 1:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.