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published on 03/23/2004

Town Council Votes YES

By staff writer

The Town of Signal Mountain Town Council met, Tuesday, March 23rd at 7:00 PM at the Town Hall for a special called meeting. The purpose of this meeting was the approval of a resolution for a referendum on the Signal Mountain High School bond issue.

Mayor Jim Althaus called the meeting to order dispensing with the roll call and prayer noting that Councilmember Rachel Bryant was absent. In addition to the Mayor, also present were Councilmembers Robert White and Steve Ruffin, Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard, town attorney Phil Noblett, town recorder Diana Campbell and town manager Hershel Dick. There were around 50 people in the audience.

After the town recorder read the resolution the town attorney explained the resolution. Prepared at the recommendation of the Town Council, Mr. Noblett explained that if passed, the Town of Signal Mountain would request the Hamilton County Election Commission put on the calendar an election for the residents of the Town of Signal Mountain to vote on a tax increase to pay for a 7.7 million dollar bond as part of the 10 million dollar commitment toward a high school on the mountain. According to Mr. Noblett, timing is important in that bond issues are not voted on every year in Hamilton County. If the high school is to be considered in Hamilton County’s budget for next year, then a commitment from the two communities must be in the County’s hands as soon as possible. Therefore a date yet to be determined but most probably May 18th would be the date of the vote on the bond issue.

After the motion was moved and seconded, Mayor Althaus opened the meeting up to the members of the audience. Tom Caldwell, a member of the FOSMHS spoke first making a few clarifications. One is that there has been no assurance from members of the County Commission that this is a done deal, only sympathetic remarks and a feeling that if the towns contribute then that show of support increases their chances of getting a high school. He also pointed out that the $10 million raised on the mountain is not half the cost of the high school/middle school but only a portion of the cost. He said that the Town of Walden would be voting on a similar resolution for a referendum on March 31 at a special called meeting. Mr. Noblett explained that an earlier concern that Walden could not vote on a referendum was untrue and that in fact if their board of alderman approve their resolution, the two towns could save money and vote at the same time.

Resident Joe Dumas then spoke after having presented the Council with a letter listing concerns he has about the resolution and potential referendum. Having formed an organization called “Friends of Signal Mountain Taxpayers”, he had three concerns which he addressed the Council. One being the cost of the special election, two being the timing, and three being informed citizens in a short amount of time. The mayor answered the first question by stating that costs would come from either the ½ cent tax increase in 1999 or either donations from the FOSMHS. Waiting until the November general election would be too late to get the commitment from the County, and he agreed as did the other Councilmembers that getting the information out to the residents was important but felt there was plenty of time to do so.

Resident Mark Shartle pointed out that although he supported the tax increase, it is a significant increase and important that everyone be informed as much as possible before the election. The mayor said that the FOSMHS were prepared to get the word out.

Shannon DeFriese, also a resident of the Town announced that she works for the Hamilton County Election Commission and had brought with her registration forms, which she offered to leave at the Town Hall. Residents not already registered to vote may do so 30 days before an election. Resident Debbie Matthews asked what would happen if the resolution passed and then the referendum passed, but the County Commission still voted no on the high school. Mayor Althaus said then there would be no tax increase. David Hooten asked what would happen if the vote was won or lost by a small margin and the Mayor said then that would be the final decision. There was no margin of error.

Before bringing the matter to vote, Mayor Althaus invited members of the Town Council to speak:
?Councilmember White said the issue is about children; about children not born yet; not fair to the children who build friendships and then all go their separate ways. He said K-12 needs to be up here and that this is “the biggest thing that could happen to the mountain top – the missing piece for the whole equation.” He also added that in Mr. Dumas’ letter, he requested a link of his organization on the Town’s web site as the Town has a link to the FOSMHS’ web site. He asked the town manager to consider honoring Mr. Dumas’ request, which Mr. Dick said yes.
?Councilmember Ruffin said it was important whether one is for or against the tax increase, each person needs to make an informed decision; know exactly what you are voting for. He would like to see a large turnout with a united front in support of the high school.
?Vice-mayor Leonard agreed with the other two councilmembers and suggested that in a desire to provide the citizens information, a public forum be held between now and the vote at MACC. Give everyone a fair hearing.
?Mayor Althaus concluded by saying that even though most of us wants the County to pay for a high school, as it’s their responsibility, we know now that’s just not going to happen. He asked what happens to our mountaintop when we get a high school? Answer – within five years of completion the best high school in the state of Tennessee – best faculty, best principal, best curriculum, special equipment, and the best parents. “It’s a win win situation.”

Councilmember Ruffin called for a roll call vote. All members voted yes in approval of the referendum. The meeting ended at 7:50 PM.
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