By a 2-1 margin Monday, county commissioners decided to borrow up to $3.1 million for school heaters, air conditioning, lighting and other improvements to be repaid with money available from lower power bills.
"We have lots of old equipment" that would have to be replaced anyway, said Commissioner Rocky Bowden, a retired Forrest School vice principal and chairman of the county education committee that endorsed the program.
It's to be administered by Commissioner Sheldon Davis, the schools' maintenance supervisor.
"As our schools get older," Davis told commissioners during their monthly meeting, "we have to replace lighting and HVAC units."
A state subsidy for the project comes from the Tennessee lottery. The money's interest rate is so low "It's almost zero percent," according to Kirk Whittington, a member of Siemens' business development, energy and environmental solutions team, who was at the County Courthouse Annex meeting.
The 2-1 margin for the loan contract and project organized by Siemens Industry Inc.'s Nashville office was revealed by a 12-6 vote.
"We thought it would be more," Whittington said of the six no votes.
During this and other school projects, one frequent reaction is that it's just too good to be true, Whittington agreed.
The vote, however, "was positive" on Monday night, Whittington said.
Voting yes were Commissioners Bowden, Davis, Phil Willis, Richard Hill, Nathan Johnson, Tom Sumners, Dean Delk, Mike Waggoner, E.W. Hill, Anna Childress who seconded Bowden's motion for approval, John Christmas and Jeff Taylor.
Voting no were Commissioners Reynelle Peacock Smith, Seth Warf, Barry Spivey, Mickey King, Kevin Vanhooser and Don Ledford.
Warf and Spivey spoke against putting the county further in debt.
Commissioners were reminded that last summer the school board was asked to bring spending in line with revenue. There's been an annual tug on heartstrings for spending for the children and a countervailing position for economy.
Siemens found $6 million "worthy of work" needed for schools' energy efficiency, Whittington said. Davis reduced it to $3 million.
King noted the price of electricity has increased "nine times" in the last year, but Whittington said Siemens guarantees to pay the difference between what the bill was expected to be and what it becomes if costs exceed projections based on better use of energy.
Bowden agrees with King and others.
"Our people are strapped" because of the economy and high unemployment," Bowden said. "They are at wits end. That's why this plan is so vital."
Warf asked if Whittington guaranteed the savings.
"He just did," Bowden replied. "It's in the contract, in writing."
Later, Schools Director Roy Dukes was asked to comment.
"Thank you," Dukes replied. "That's all I'm going to say."