Ordinance tabled when crowd shows

Published 1:02 am Friday, January 22, 2016


The Opp City Council Thursday morning tabled a proposed ordinance after a standing-room-only crowd showed up at a special called meeting.

The ordinance was the only item on the agenda, and would have allowed the city to refinance a bond issue that funded education projects and is being repaid with school tax monies. Opp Mayor John Bartholomew planned to use the savings for city projects.

The ordinance was introduced at Tuesday night’s council meeting. If the council had been in unanimous agreement, it could have suspended the rules and approved the ordinance then.

Specifically, Bartholomew is proposing the refinancing of a 2007 bond issue for the elementary school. The debt is being repaid with a 1-cent sales tax for education, and supplemented by the board of education with property taxes it receives for education. Bartholomew’s proposed ordinance also would change how the 1-cent sales tax revenue is administered.

Superintendent Michael Smithart has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance. He said the board of education was planning to refinance the school bonds and use the savings for school projects.

Bartholomew said he had asked Smithart to allow the city to complete the refinance and share in the proceeds. The superintendent said he feels it is his job to advocate for all of the funds to benefit education.

“It’s a very important ordinance for our community,” Opp Mayor John Bartholomew said Thursday. “I feel we need to make a motion to table this ordinance and have more discussion with the school to come to an agreement. We need to come to a win-win situation.”

Bartholomew told the crowd of around 50 who attended Thursday meeting that there would be no open debates until Smithart and the city council could talk.

“I know we can do this harmoniously,” he said.

Councilman T.D. Morgan, who voted against tabling the issue, said he wanted to nip it in the bud.

Smithart said it was too important of an issue to rush.

“I think dialog could be beneficial,” he said. “What we wanted to do was pull the money out of the city as stand-alone debt for us,” he said. “That would mean no general obligation for the city. That’s what we would ultimately like to do. I don’t think it has to be an adversarial situation.”

Smithart told the Star-News on Wednesday the school board would like to finish their upgrades to the stadium, replace ancient HVAC systems and upgrade their network in order to give their students more options for technology.

A concerned resident at the meeting told the Star-News that Smithart and the school board had plans to use the money to build a new central office.

Smithart said he had an architect look at the cost of building one, but it was not cost effective.

“We are always looking at doing things,” he said. “We’ve looked at the feasibility of an access road behind the elementary school and at a new baseball and softball complex.”

Bartholomew introduced the ordinance at Tuesday night’s council meeting, saying he wanted to use the estimated $700,000 to $800,000 the city could get back through interest savings by refinancing the bonds to fix the library’s roof, make improvements to the fire department, fix the bathrooms at Hardin Street Community Center and put an awning at Channell-Lee Stadium.

The council’s next regular meeting is Mon., Feb. 1.