The new Trojan Century Center has become an unnecessary stumbling block in discussions regarding the need to increase property taxes to fund education.
Usually, school districts cannot use money set aside in capital funds to pay teacher salaries. That was before the recession hit and the state legislature allowed school districts to do just that: use capital funds for more general expenses. In Morgan, that meant using $1.2 million in capital funds over the last three years, Superintendent Ken Adams said.
“Obviously we’ve gambled. The leaders of our state told us we were safe,” Boardmember Bruce Galbraith said. “We took the money.”
In the meantime, the Trojan Century Center was built using grants, some capital “pay-as-you-go” funds, and donations coordinated through the Morgan Education Foundation. District administrators did not dip into teacher salary money for the project, Adams said.
In fact, considering the $1.2 million taken from the capital fund, just the opposite is true.
“Is it the right time for an extracurricular building?” resident Tina Cannon asked the board. “Is that building what we needed the most?”
Cannon’s question is similar to many others the board has been fielding lately as the Morgan County School Board initiated the possibility of increasing property taxes.
“It is a big misnomer in our community,” Adams said. “That building (the century center) didn’t take money from the general fund.”
General funds were not used to build the new bus garage near the county fairgrounds, either.
Adams said building both facilities at this particular time saved the taxpayers money in the long run, some $1.5 million in interest.
“Construction costs are down. We had to build it. By doing that now, you saved the taxpayer lots of money later,” Adams told the board. “It was the right thing and the right moment, and the board had the courage to do it.”
Adams said that voters turning down approvals of funds to build Mountain Green Elementary School before enrollment actually made a bond necessary ultimately cost taxpayers $7 million in construction delay costs. He didn’t want to see that happen again with the Trojan Century Center, and doesn’t want to see that again with the financial bind the district currently finds itself in.
Some residents, such as Bret Smith, are worried maintenance of the two new facilities will continue to financially strain the district’s limited funds in the future.
“You have to maintain the new building. It is not an asset,” Smith said. “It is a liability because you will be maintaining it forever.”
Business Administrator D’Lynn Poll said the district will be charging many who use the Trojan Century Center, and that revenue should cover a large portion of the expected $62,000 in maintenance costs. However, without utility billing history on the building to consult, the district has no way of definitively knowing.