Chelsea residents had the opportunity to voice their comments and concerns about a new municipal school system and property tax at the city’s first public hearing on January 28.
A crowd nearly filled the seats of Liberty Baptist Church. Chelsea Public Information Officer Wayne Morris opened the meeting, saying he hoped the conversation would lead to a better understanding of the issue and the direction the city should be taking.
The Mayor and Council each had an opportunity to speak before the meeting was opened for public comment.
Mayor Tony Picklesimer said he had wanted from the very beginning of this endeavor to try to find a way to build a new secondary school and provide better facilities for pupils attending schools in Chelsea. Its original intention was to include all areas and the 4,500 pupils who currently attend schools in Chelsea, but residents of some of these areas, such as Dunnavant Valley and Highland Lakes, have made it clear they do not want to be involved in this.
“As a grandfather, I’m a yes to the $30 million property tax that would allow us to build a new high school,” Picklesimer said. “But I’m not standing here as a grandfather. I stand here as your mayor. You elected me, and it is my job to represent you and what you would like to see happen. In the end, it will come down to a decision by the voters of Chelsea Town, as it should be.”
Picklesimer presented four options regarding the formation of a school system in Chelsea:
- Do not do anything. The city has a feasibility report which indicates that it is possible for Chelsea to form a school system, but the report does not require any action.
- Vote on 11 thousandths of property tax. This would be sufficient to start the system, but would not allow immediate additional funding for the renovation and construction of existing facilities.
- Vote on 20 thousandths of property tax. That would be enough to start a system and fund a bond of about $40 million to renovate and build existing facilities.
- Vote on 30 thousandths of property tax. That would be enough to start a school system and fund a bond of about $80 million to build a new high school.
By separating from the Shelby County School Board and forming a municipal school system, it would consist of two elementary schools, a middle school, a middle school, and a new high school.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” Picklesimer said. “It would take several years of preparation. But without moving in a certain direction, we will be stuck where we are now. I promise you that as your mayor, I’m listening, no matter what I personally think. My job on this board is to represent you, and that is my full intention.
Picklesimer said one thing that may or may not have been clarified is that all of council will be able to decide on a level of taxation that will be presented to residents.
“We cannot make this decision as a city council,” he said. “This decision will come down to a vote of the people. The council is trying to determine through this public hearing what level of taxation you propose for approval.”
Councilor Cody Sumners thanked the crowd for coming and said he looked forward to hearing from them and coming back and meeting the mayor and council members and discussing all realistic options moving forward. .
Councilor Chris Grace said that as a community they have identified a problem that needs to be addressed and school facilities have not been able to keep up with the rapid growth of the town.
“I would say option 1 is not an option,” Grace said. “There is nothing we can do. I think it’s irresponsible.”
He said that since his family moved to Chelsea in 2003, three elementary schools have been built and there have been additions to middle and high schools, but population growth has outpaced those improvements.
“Any solution we come to will require higher taxes,” Grace said. “As we continue to grow, and we will, if we are to maintain a high quality of life, we will have other needs that will arise, and those will also require public funding. We must balance our known needs of today with our unknown needs of tomorrow.
Councilor Casey Morris thanked those present and said he looked forward to working with council and the community to better address this issue.
Councilman Tiffany Bittner said this is an important time and the town has an opportunity to shape its future for its children and community.
“I believe now is the time to do something about our schools, and frankly, something should have been done a long time ago,” she said.
Specifically, Chelsea Park Elementary doesn’t have enough classroom space, the middle school is outdated and worn out, and the high school was built in 1992 for 580 students and currently has more than 1,385 students, she said. .
“The list goes on and on of all the basic necessities that our facilities require. and we’re at a point where we have to do something about it,” Bittner said.
Pro Tem Mayor Scott Weygand shared information on city revenue and spending. Municipal system revenue would be $31.8 million because that’s what Shelby County gets from Chelsea, he said. The projected expenditure to run a school system would be $30.6 million, meaning the system could put money in the bank without raising taxes, he said.
“There’s only one way to ensure that the tax money we all pay into the school system stays in our local schools,” Weygand said. “This is an opportunity to put our tax dollars to work and reduce overcrowding issues, make the system work more efficiently and reduce overcrowding in our schools.
More than 20 people signed up to share their comments and opinions. Here’s what some of them had to say:
- Amber Polk said she agreed new facilities were needed but did not believe Chelsea could afford to split from Shelby County and form their own school system. She also mentioned a district tax as a fifth option. “I think the question we have to ask ourselves is ‘Do we want a new school system or do we want improved facilities?’ These are two different issues. I believe we are one of the best school systems in the state, so why would we want to spend $40 million a year to create what we already have? »
- Mark Manning said he disapproved of the creation of a school system in Chelsea and also disapproved of any increase in property taxes. He believes that increasing the property tax is illogical, unreasonable and unsustainable.
- Wayne Scotts said he was in favor of paying a higher percentage.
- Angie Moreland said Shelby County schools have given her children a great education and helped them pursue their passions, and while the buildings need improvement, she is against breaking up with county schools. from Shelby.
- Amanda Mundy asked if teachers are supportive of a new school system and how it will affect current educators. She thinks the tax hike will hurt the city in the long run.
- Richard Wilbanks has said he opposes a forced tax over a choice tax.
- Joe Frost encouraged the mayor and council to put their energy into batting with the Shelby County School Board.
- Brandon Jones said that as things stand, increasing the tax burden is not appropriate at this time.
Mayor Picklesimer responded to some of the comments at the end of the meeting.
He said when he was first elected he asked the previous superintendent and was told the money was not there to help. He went to current superintendent Lewis Brooks in 2018 and was told the same thing. He spoke to Brooks again the morning of the meeting and was told there was no room in the budget for new facilities.
As for the 1-cent sales tax passed in 2019, $4.4 million was collected, of which $1,060,505 was spent on grants for items requested for Chelsea schools. The rest of the money is in the bank to continue providing grants to schools, he said.
He said he received a lot of flak over the $600 property tax example. He said that because of the median house price in the city, he chose that number based on the average.
“I know it’s a big problem. I love Chelsea and want the best for the students and your children and grandchildren,” Picklesimer said. “If that’s not the route you choose to take, so be it. This is the last term you will have me. If we don’t move forward, my last three years as your mayor will be much easier. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about representing you, the people.