LAKELAND, TN (WMC) - Lakeland residents and its leaders are deeply divided over whether to build a new high school.
Lakeland is a suburb of Memphis with 12,600 residents and a low property tax rate.
Tuesday night, newly elected Mayor Mike Cunningham warns that could change if the city builds a pricey new high school.
An emotional, overflowing crowd packed Lakeland City Hall Tuesday night.
"I can’t understand why we have so many sneaky people in this group trying to shove things down our throat,” said one resident.
Most urged the mayor and the board of commissioners not to rush into building a new high school.
"We have some commissioners who want to push the school on the citizens of Lakeland when we're not financially ready for it,” Mayor Cunningham said.
Mayor Cunningham said Lakeland can't afford a new $38 million high school that would only serve 674 students.
Lakeland's property tax, he says, would nearly double from the current $1.25 up to $2.39, but he and Commissioner Richard Gonzales are in the minority.
"I am leaning toward building the school and getting it out of the ground as soon as we can,” said commissioner Michele Dial.
Dial, fellow commissioner Wesley Wright, and Vice Mayor Josh Roman approved a request to get financing information about a capital outlay note.
"But what that is, you can do it without the public having to vote,” Mayor Cunningham said.
Lakeland residents want this issue on a referendum.
“If I have an opportunity to vote and give my opinion and the majority says let’s build a high school I’m all for it,” a resident said.
Lakeland already operates an elementary and middle school, and the city's older kids attend Arlington High.
The Lakeland school board wants funding approved for its own high school within 90 days.
"We are ready to do what we need to do and get this school built,” Dial said.
The mayor says the finance deal to build the middle school was not a good one and it is costing taxpayers.
Mayor Cunningham won the election in November campaigning on this issue.
Supporters of the new school want it open by August 2022.