By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
The Mt. Juliet passed a resolution Oct. 8 that served as an agreement to pay the Wilson County Board of Education $325,000 to settle a liquor tax lawsuit.
In 2013, it was revealed municipalities in Tennessee didn’t pay their portion of their liquor-by-the-drink tax to public school systems in which those cities operated due to an oversight. Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District were among the school districts in Tennessee that were owed back taxes by cities.
The Wilson County Board of Education filed a lawsuit in Wilson County chancery court in 2014 after it failed to reach an agreement with the city to pay liquor-by-the-drink back taxes collected until 2013. Mt. Juliet owed an estimated $372,000, according to Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall.
In March 2017, Lebanon Special School District voted to go after its portion owed from the suit after it believed a settlement was reached between Mt. Juliet and Wilson County Schools.
The resolution voted upon authorized school district attorneys “to undertake any and all steps as are necessary to secure to the Lebanon Special School District all money which should be paid and distributed to the Lebanon Special School District.”
“It’s our money, and we want it. My opinion is do whatever you have to do to get the money. We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re just getting something that is owed to us. It’s for the students. It’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s money we could use for educational purposes,” said LSSD board chair Steve Jones.
In March 2017, Mt. Juliet commissioners voted to alter terms of a previous liquor-by-the-drink lawsuit agreement to include the purchase of about 3 acres of land on North Greenhill Road, which the school system bought in 2016.
Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ray Justice said in March 2017 the 3 acres at the future site of a second Mt. Juliet high school on North Greenhill Road could potentially be a part of the settlement, depending on future talks with school officials.
In an agreement prior to March 2017, the city agreed to waive any and all future fees that are within its authority up to $380,000 that are related to building, renovation and development of new and existing schools.
Also in 2017, the city commission voted to amend the agreement to reduce the offer of $380,000 by the appraised value of the 3 acres on North Greenhill Road, and the city would buy the land for that price. The city would not pay for the land until a road to the site is built, according to the agreement.
“I would be shocked if they rejected this, because it does exactly what the original offer was to us,” said Justice.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said last month he would be more supportive of the agreement if the 3 acres were involved.
Little was said about the new resolution to pay the school district Monday night. The issue was unanimously passed by the commissioners.
The commissioners also approved a revised version of the employee’s handbook section on higher education for employees.
The previous version listed the funds for reimbursement of higher education costs would take place, but only on a first-come, first-serve basis. City attorney Gino Martchetti said he removed the section and added the reimbursement would be “based on merit. If 10 people make an application, this gives the city the opportunity to pick the best who serves the city, as opposed to who showed up first.”
The reimbursement would not be available if the class is not job related, there is a lack of funds or the employee “is not in good standing,” according to Marchetti.
The “availability of funds” section disturbed Justice.
“From an employee standpoint, If they go out there and meet all the criteria and have already been approved to begin with…and now there’s not enough money in there to reimburse them,” he said. “That should never happen, and I think that anything we do should be affected by the availability of funds.”
Commissioner Brian Abston said the new document “basically says the same thing that the [original one] does.”
Justice said if someone is a police department employee who is trying to get their degree and takes English as a part of the degree requirement, English is an elective.
City recorder Sheila Luckett said in the past if the class was required for the degree program, then it was covered. That part will remain the same. It is not written anywhere, she admitted. Justice said the issue would be a policy-and-procedure issue that is part of the day-to-day operations.
“That needs to be written down so if you guys are gone someday, and we are too, someone will not be left out in the cold,” Justice said. “What needs to be approved is the program of study to get the degree, not the degree itself.”
In addition, the employee must have worked for the city in good standing for 48 months, Hagerty said, which changed from 36 months.
The board voted unanimously to approve the change with the addition included.