By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – After several meetings of discussion and analysis by supervisors and county representatives, the Prince George Board of Supervisors opted to move forward with the issuance of $10 million in general obligation bonds, with those funds going toward over a dozen projects across the county.
During their meeting late last month, the decision was made to go with Martinsville-based Carter Bank and Trust for the $10 million borrowing and appropriate nearly $9 million of those funds toward a total of 17 projects, ranging from the public safety radio project to improvements at Scott Park.
According to county documents, within the $9 million of appropriations, over $1 million of it would go toward capital projects and purchases that have already occurred, including $400,000 in costs related to police vehicles, $174,000 for public safety radio consultant costs, over $200,000 in Parks and Recreation spending for paving and Scott Park field improvements and $227,000 in costs to address issues and repairs at the Central Wellness Center following a pipe explosion at the facility in January that required the removal of asbestos before pipe repairs could begin.
In March, after approval of the issuance of bonds by supervisors, save Alan Carmichael, who opted to not take part in discussion or vote citing a conflict of interest due to his employment with Perkinson Construction, county leaders went through the remaining 11 project appropriations one-by-one for approval.
The largest portion of the borrowing would toward the county’s ongoing public safety radio project, with $6.5 million appropriated to the project. In documents, the county explained that this project, once completed, would “increase and expand interoperability with other agencies” with the county’s current system slated to reach the end of its end of life with no guarantees of repair.
“The county’s equipment will become antiquated with limited usage as the system approaches the end of life,” county officials explained in Prince George’s capital improvement plan. “Replacement parts will also become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to find. In the event of any portion of the system failing, repair will more than likely not be an option,” with the county stressing that this is “has an impact on public safety personnel and potentially the safety of the public.”
The final assessment report from AECOM, the company the county is working with on the radio project, the new public safety radio is estimated to cost, at its most competitive price, $11.6 million, which will be funded through split funding across the current and next fiscal year.
$1 million will go toward Prince George’s broadband Internet efforts, with the county hoping to bring high-speed internet to areas that do not currently have reliable service or where residents are limited in their options due to high price points.
“The concept is to have the County own the assets, such as towers and cables, and lease space to internet service providers who will operate the service…allowing the assets to be used for future county needs,” Prince George’s CIP document detailed.
For Prince George, the effort to bring countywide broadband to the community is driven by business and educational interest.
“The lack of broadband service negatively impacts the following: large industrial businesses in our business park still on DSL, home businesses with no service and students who cannot view their grades, homework, lunch account, lunch menu or project research from their homes,” the county said. “Business prospects and home buyers will not select Prince George County without this service. The tax base will erode as location decisions are made with reliable, cost-effective internet.”
According to Deputy County Administrator Jeff Stoke, there will be consideration of an additional borrowing next year for the broadband project, which would also include completion funding for the public safety radio project.
$500,000 of the borrowing was appropriated toward architectural, engineering and construction costs for a new fire station along Route 10 in the county. This would allow the county to move forward and take action on a study that detailed future fire station needs and locations conducted in 2013. At that time, residents in the Rivers Edge subdivision have expressed the need for a Fire and EMS station closer to their area.
“After the insurance industry changed their practice for underwriting homeowner’s policies, several citizens have seen an increase of up to 150 percent of their previous cost for fire insurance,” officials said. “This issue, coupled with long response times in higher populated areas, as well as areas in which future development plans are underway, and fatalities resulting from structural fires have prompted action.”
Additionally, a total of $333,000 in funds has been appropriated toward a variety of parks and recreation costs, mainly comprised of improvements to Scott Park, totaling $187,200.
Of the resolutions approved during the late March meeting, the three related to Scott Park improvements saw dissension from Board Chairman Bill Robertson, who voted against funding the park’s irrigation, electrical, and fencing projects.
In a later interview, the longtime supervisor explained his rationale for voting against the trio of contract awards and funding appropriations.
“I don’t think we should be spending money back there on that property,” he said. “I have voted against everything that has gone on on that property because we had a decent property, we stuck $2.5 million back there, and we have two fields so far.”
“If we had other property we could’ve spent that on, we could’ve had a nice stadium,” the chairman remarked.
For Robertson, he explained that “the county has other things to spend money on other than building and irrigating ball fields.”
“We had to go up on tax rates four cents last year to meet our needs,” he continued. “Years ago, we had plenty of money and we built new libraries and animal shelters and we reduced the tax rate, but right now, people are hurting for money and we need to be very judicious about how we spend our money.”
The other parks and recreation-related projects that were funded through the bond issuance included the addition of a canoe launch at the Appomattox River Regional Park along Folar Trail North, along with work on the athletic complex at Moore Middle School.
$217,500 of the debt proceeds will also be used for windows at Harrison Elementary. A similar project for South Elementary was removed from the borrowing after alternative funding was identified by the county.
According to county documents, the $10 million bond issuance through Carter Bank and Trust will be repaid over the course of 15 years, with $9 million of those funds being tax-exempt general obligation bonds and $1 million, related to the broadband project, will be a taxable loan.
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