Committee: Hurry up and wait

Published 8:48 pm Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday’s meeting of the City School Advisory Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns brought a disagreement between City Council and School Board representatives over how to proceed with a potential money-saving opportunity.

At its February meeting, the four-person body decided to recommend to the full City Council and School Board that the two entities go through the energy performance contracting process together.

The program allows government entities to contract with energy companies to perform upgrades to existing energy equipment. The company guarantees that the energy savings will meet or exceed the debt payments on the new equipment. If it doesn’t, the company writes a check for the difference.

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Councilmen Mike Duman and Lue Ward, who were representing the City Council on Monday, said they would like to go ahead and start contacting companies to give estimates on how much the two bodies could save, which wouldn’t cost anything.

But Judith Brooks-Buck, who represents the School Board and is the chairman of the committee, said the School Board has questions. She wants to invite Charlie Barksdale, of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, to a full meeting to give a presentation.

“They have questions they want to ask, and as a body they have a right to do that,” Brooks-Buck said. “I want us to go into this with everybody buying in.”

But Duman was leery of wasting time and expressed a fear the School Board would kill the project altogether without knowing how much it could save.

“I don’t understand the need to wait,” he said. “This is a long, drawn-out process.”

Later, he added, if there are cost savings available, there should not be an option to ignore it.”

Ward agreed.

“We’re trying to save money,” he said. “That’s the most important part of this. Give it a chance, and it’s going to be fine.”

Brooks-Buck said she and Linda Bouchard, the other School Board representative on the committee, don’t speak for the entire board.

“Two of us have no right to make decisions for seven of us,” he said.

The contentious history between the two bodies also came up during the discussion.

“If we’re forgetting the history, let’s move forward,” Brooks-Buck said.

Also during the meeting, the members discussed issuing a request for proposals to provide insurance to employees of the school system and the city, both individually and collectively, and also talked about creative ways to advertise that the school system needs bus drivers.