- Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 12:33
- Published on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:38
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Conflicting resolutions, long discussions and short memories seem to be at the heart of the Town of Colonial Beach’s inability to support the School, rather than the lack of funding. Council members seemed to have different opinions on what they approved and promised to the school system. The elementary school relocation and high school maintenance funding continues to dominate council meetings with the same result; members asking for another meeting with the school to hash out details, and no action toward seeking and providing funding is taken.
The town council seems to be split on the issue of whether it should require the School to pay back funding for the relocation and upgrades, whether it should take possession of unused school properties, and agreements struck between the Town and the School last year, before the fire caused the forced relocation of the elementary school students to the Oak Grove Baptist Church.
On Feb. 12, the Colonial Beach Town Council responded to the School’s request for $448,565 to fund the move of the elementary school to the high school campus. Town council responded to that request by passing Resolution 17-14, which tasks the town manager to locate and identify funding in that amount. The resolution also states, “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Colonial Beach Town Council further tasks the Town Manager to work with the Town Attorney to craft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and the School Board regarding repayment of the $448,565 from any insurance proceeds that may be forthcoming upon receipt of said insurance funds.”
However, it seems the council has had a change of heart and passed an almost identical Resolution 18-14, entitled “Approving Loan to School Board”, but it is contingent on the signing of the Memorandum Of Understanding that would allow the Town to take the loaned money out of the following year’s budget if insurance does not pay up within one year.
The council voted unanimously (with Councilman Gary Seeber absent) to pass this resolution on February 17.
The group was scheduled to receive an update from Town Manager Val Foulds on a $1 million bond the town is seeking from VML (Virginia Municipal League) to fund the school move and upgrades/repairs to the high school that the council had discussed during the Feb. 12 meeting, earlier that week.
During the Feb. 17 meeting, School Board Chairman Tim Trivett aired concerns with the MOU. Trivett’s concerns centered around the memorandum’s requirements concerning payback of the loan, which states, “In the event that the school board shall fail to repay the $448,565 within one year of the date of this agreement, the parties agree that the town shall withhold the sum of $448,565 from the next year’s appropriation of funds by the town to the school board.”
“This is a legal document that I don’t think anyone on this board is prepared to accept until our attorney can review it,” Trivett said, adding, “We have no way of knowing when that insurance money will come in.”
Trivett added, “If you cut $448,000 from our budget, the School closes. We don’t have a half a million dollars to cut from our budget. I don’t see how we could agree to this at all. I haven’t read the whole document, but I just know it would be a disaster to have to cut our budget by $500,000,” Trivett said.
Mayor Mike Ham responded, “It would be a disaster for the Town to be out $500,000. We don’t have the money; we’re talking about ways to front the money, then going ahead with the loan.”
Ham said he agreed the School needs to have their attorney review the document, but explained the council’s intentions with the MOU were to front the School the $448,000 to move the elementary students to First Street and continue to seek the loan of $1 million to recoup the moving money and continue with improvements to the high school.
A long discussion ensued trying to sort out what was agreed upon last year before the fire. Town Attorney Erard stated, “I am very uncomfortable advancing money to the School without the Town knowing that those funds aren’t coming from somewhere.”
Erard suggested changing the MOU amount to $25,000 to get the school through the first steps.
Councilman Pete Bone recommended leaving the MOU as it stands (to lend the school $448,000 to relocate the elementary school), and approving it, contingent on the School’s approval. This would give the School’s attorney time to go over the MOU and give his opinion.
All council members agreed and passed the resolution executing the MOU as it stood upon approval of the school board.
At the most recent Town Council work session held on March 27, School Board Chairman Tim Trivett attended as an audience member and again found himself defending the School’s actions and trying to sort out what agreements the Town and School had come to.
Council members did not reference Resolution 18-14 or the fact that it conflicts with the repayment provisions in the MOU. Since the MOU is an attachment, and the passing of the resolution is contingent on both entities’ agreement with the provisions in the MOU, it becomes a part of the resolution.
The resolution only states the School will be obligated to pay the loan back with insurance money as it becomes available, yet the MOU states if insurance is not forthcoming within a year of the agreement being signed, the Town will deduct that amount from the School’s budget the following fiscal year.
At the March 27 meeting, council members not only talked about deducting the funds from the next year’s budget but also discussed taking property from the School at the old elementary school campus.
After some heated debates, Mayor Ham summed up why the Town’s desire to force the School to repay the loan has no fiscal benefit to the Town.
Ham said, “Where this whole thing started going bad on us was the initial wording in the MOU saying anything we give you, you’ve got to repay. The Town as a whole, if we elect to continue to have a school system, it’s the Town’s responsibility to fund the school system. The school board has no money to repay unless we give it to them to repay. They can’t pay us with federal funds.”
Ham also stated that if the Town raises property taxes to fund the school system and repay the bond, the Town can not ask the School to pay them back since those taxes would be slated support the School.
So once again, the Town has scheduled a joint meeting with the school board scheduled for Thursday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Center. All interested parties are urged to attend.