The Oak Ridge City Council on Tuesday rejected a request to use red light camera money to reimburse the school system $36,000 for sinkhole repairs made in April at the Oak Ridge High School soccer field.
Council also agreed to transfer a small burned-out lot on Hillside Road to Habitat for Humanity of Anderson County and rejected a proposal to lower the property tax rate by one cent.
Asked about the sinkhole repair reimbursement on Tuesday, Oak Ridge Schools Interim Superintendent Bob Smallridge said the school system, which expects revenues to fall by about $1 million and is cutting 18 positions, has a tight budget.
But the city also has a tight budget, Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland retorted.
Several Council members objected to the reimbursement request, questioning the emergency nature of the repairs, expressing concern about the use of the red light camera money, and alleging the school system hasn’t previously spent all the capital maintenance money it has received from the city.
Smallridge said the soccer field contains geothermal wells, which help to heat and cool the high school, and that made the sinkhole repairs more complicated and more expensive than they would have been otherwise.
Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller said if the Council agreed to reimburse the school system this time, the school board could come back “again and again.”
School officials acknowledged that that was the case. They said their capital maintenance funding from the city has been cut from $750,000 to $250,000, and they had been instructed to seek funding from the city for emergency repairs.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson had recommended using the red light camera money for the sinkhole repairs since the 13-foot hole affected student safety. The red light camera money has been designated for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.
Voting for the repair reimbursement were Oak Ridge City Council members Charlie Hensley, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby.
Voting against it were Miller, Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, and City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland.