Concerns about projects linger after Board narrowly approves spring borrowing

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 23, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

Scott Park building at center of ‘need vs. want’ debate among leaders

PRINCE GEORGE – Reservations persist for some members of the Prince George Board of Supervisors about funding from the county’s annual springtime borrowing being used for certain projects that some see as “wants” as opposed to a true “need” for the county and its residents. 

This month, supervisors hosted their formal public hearings for the county’s annual issuance of general obligation bonds as part of its spring borrowing, with those funds being traditionally used for various capital projects around the county. This year’s borrowing totaled $9.4 million and includes a number of projects and purchases, including several million to support and continue the utility expansion and upgrade projects along U.S. Route 460 near the Food Lion distribution center and Route 156 in the county, the continued purchases of police vehicles, new software for the county assessor’s office, and, just recently added, $3.2 million for a new Jefferson Park fire station building to replace its current and deteriorating home.

Leading into the public hearing, the county had already approved $1.2 million in projects that would be receiving funding through the springtime borrowing, with the utility projects, police vehicles, assessor’s office software, and a couple of smaller projects being among those the county had already appropriated money for and would use the proceeds from the borrowing to reimburse itself. 

While there were no comments from the community during either public hearing, questions and comments from supervisors dominated the discussion leading into the narrow 3-2 vote to approve the borrowing and reimbursement resolutions, where Vice-Chair Floyd Brown, Jr. and Supervisor TJ Webb both casting dissenting votes on the motions. 

The main question brought up by Webb was if it was possible for the board, after approving the funding and projects, thus making the borrowing from the financial institution, could the board go back and change one of the projects at a later time so as long as the project cost does not exceed has has been borrowed. That question was addressed by the county’s contracted bond attorney, who advised them a public hearing would have to be held if you are changing to a project that has a completely different scope than what was borrowed for. 

In addition, Webb sought to have a decision on the matter tabled until their next meeting on March 26 to allow for more time to review the projects, noting the offer made by Zions Bank would be still valid during their next meeting. 

Prior to the vote on the second resolution, the county’s plan to reimburse itself using the borrowed funds for the project, Supervisor Alan Carmichael spoke to the concerns that were raised over the course of the discussion, saying he would like to see the county finally close the door on some outstanding projects.

“I know there is some heartburn over some of these projects from board members and I share that but, some of these have been out there for years, I would like to see some of these done,” he said before making a motion to vote on the matter, with Brown saying some of the projects needed to be weighed in terms of current necessity.

“I think there are some deeper conversations that need to be held about this list and that is the reason for this walking lightly with this,” he said. “This isn’t about how long the project has been out there, this comes down to need versus want.”

During the meeting, supervisors never explicitly stated which projects were causing them the most concern which resulted in the way they voted but following the public hearings, those voting for and against the borrowing motions confirmed it centered around $450,000 that was earmarked for Scott Park as part of the development of a “multi-purpose building” with restrooms and a concession stand. 

For Carmichael, who voted in favor of moving forward with the borrowing and its current slate of projects, he said his decision to support the recommendations of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan committee and fund the projects was part of maintaining a commitment to seeing projects through to completion. 

“In serving my 12th year on the board, we had decided years ago that citizens were tired of us starting projects and not finishing them,” he said. “Eight years ago we started that soccer complex at Scott Park and we gradually spoon-fed that project until it is now ready to have big tournaments, some in Jerry Skalsky’s name, state events, and other organizations coming in. There is no place to use the restroom or concessions and that was one of the projects that needed be finished this year in the borrowing.”

In an interview with Webb, one of the two dissenting votes on both the borrowing and reimbursement motions, he said he believed there were other places those funds for the multi-purpose building at the park could be used, such as a recently proposed convenience center for those citizens whose commute time to dispose of their trash can exceed 15 minutes in some parts of Prince George County.

“If you look at the two, to some of us, [the multipurpose building] is a ‘nice-to-have’ versus a need,” he said, noting the board’s discussion earlier in the event about an increase in litter across the county as an example for the need for the facility. 

When the idea was presented in October of last year, supervisors were told a conceptual convenience center would cost roughly $171,000, which would feature “four open-top roll-off containers for large items, six dumpsters for single stream [recycling], two compactors for trash, [and] one carport for miscellaneous shelter.” That figure was based off the county’s research, using neighboring localities like Dinwiddie and Sussex as a guide.

The thoughts shared by Webb were echoed by the board’s vice-chairman Floyd Brown, who also voted against the borrowing and reimbursement resolutions this month.

“I do support recreation and I support a lot of things in the county but, I believe [the multi-purpose building] is a ‘nice-to-have,'” Brown remarked. “A lot of times, it is about timing and when we talk about how tight things are going to be and how tight they are, we need to be focused on what are the items that we really need.”

“If we wanted to change the projects,” he continued, “we would have to have a public hearing on the substituted project because the public needs to be aware of that and I have no concerns about that at all. The concern is how does the bank look at that because when you say you’re borrowing money for this and, all of a sudden, you are using it for something else, it’s about trying to get all this up front and on the table.”

He added that he, too, would like to see the idea of a convenience center be looked at again.

“When we talked about it, we said we would discuss it when it became budget time,” he said. “That was something that was not in the proposed budget so, out of the $450,000, I would like to see us use some of that money for a convenience center.”

Brown continued, “For me, that is a need. The residents have a need for that. There is no convenience station except for a 30-yard dumpster at the Burrowsville Community Center. We have a station in District 1, so for me, that is a need.”

He added that he would like to see the remainder of the $450,000 and the likely $170,000 from a possible convenience center development cost to pay for use that to provide the county fire and EMS department with funds to cover costs of replacing self-contained breathing apparatus units that are about to expire. 

“The reason we voted no was to have more time to talk about it,” Brown said. “We wanted to delay until our next meeting to give us two weeks to chat about and come to some agreement. If in the end, we don’t do it, that’s okay and we will come back and vote to move on but it wouldn’t have satisfied my thought of needs versus wants.”

For Carmichael, he felt waiting any longer to act on the borrowing was “stalling” and would’ve “put the county [staff] behind” until the board met again. 

“There was nothing on that list that hasn’t been seen five or six times already,” he remarked. “If it was so important that they wanted to look at it and weigh out their options on what they should or shouldn’t do, then they had time to do it in the work sessions.”

With the resolutions now adopted, the funds are earmarked for each of the near-dozen projects. The county will still have to go through various processes, such as contract awards and other matters that would require a county vote, before moving forward on many of the projects.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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