Supervisors approve $7.2 million borrowing for county projects

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 15, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

Central Wellness Center upgrades, fire vehicle purchases among projects

PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George County supervisors unanimously approved moving forward with borrowing over $7 million through their annual fall debt issuance to help pay for a number of county projects, including upgrades and enhancements to the county’s Central Wellness Center and the purchase of law enforcement vehicles and fire apparatus.

During last Wednesday’s regular meeting, county leaders approved resolutions that allowed them to issue $7,295,000 in general obligation bonds as part of this year’s debt issuance, with Prince George, at the suggestion of county staff and financial advisers Davenport and Company, opting to use Zions Bank as their lender for the borrowing, with the bank’s request for proposal to Prince George offering more clarity in terms of being able to actually receive credit through their institution and more flexibility in regards to prepayment when compared to other banks who submitted proposals.

In past years, a number of projects are funded through the issuance of debt but, this borrowing only has five projects that will be funded through this borrowing, with funding for the purchase of fire apparatus carrying the bulk of funding at $2.25 million, which will be repaid in five years using revenue from the dedication of two cents of the county’s real estate tax annually.

In February of this year, the board voted to adopt a resolution that would bind the board of supervisors to devoting that two cents of real estate tax revenue to fire apparatus replacement for the county’s fire and EMS department, which has been done since the 2014 fiscal year, according to county finance records. As of this fiscal year, the two cents of real estate tax is carved out and not included in the county’s calculation of their transfer to the school division.

At that February public hearing, it was revealed specifically what would qualify as fire apparatus and able to be purchased through this funding, ranging from fire engines and pumpers, aerial ladder trucks, heavy rescue units, tankers, ambulances, and medium / light duty squads. Sport utility vehicles, pick-up trucks, and sedans were among those vehicles not eligible for purchase the funding.

While last week’s public hearing was largely quiet, volunteer firefighter Reid Foster expressed concern about how the county arrived at the $2.25 million figure, asking if the county has seen the recommendations from public safety’s fire apparatus committee, saying their findings are higher than the amount being allocated for the purchases.

According to Prince George Deputy County Administrator Betsy Drewry, they had not seen their recommendations while noting the $2.25 million figure was derived from taking the county’s real estate tax rate, where one cent equaling approximately $250,000 in tax revenue, and applying that across five years.

For Foster, he questioned why the recommendations weren’t considered when looking at funding the apparatus purchases.

“Why do we have a committee to go through this and make recommendations and it’s not being brought forward,” he remarked.

Alongside the fire apparatus purchases, the project with the next-highest price tag goes to funding various stormwater projects in the county at $2.1 million. Similar to the fire apparatus purchases, these will also be repaid over five years through the use of stormwater fees. No specific projects were presented during last week’s meeting, with the expectation they will be brought forward in the coming months.

The Central Wellness Center along Route 156 is set to get some needed upgrades thanks to the fall debt issuance as $1.42 million in funding was set aside to begin addressing different structural and mechanical aspects of the building in a phased approach.

During a summer retreat at the center in July, supervisors received a report from Enteros Design, who presented their findings after a detailed feasibility study and adaptive reuse assessment of the building. Through their review of the entire site and the interior of the Central Wellness Center, they found a number of areas for improvement, including the development of new parking areas, improved handicapped accessibility both outside and inside the building, upgrade interior finishes of the facility, along with new heating, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection and alarm systems, among others.

In total, if all of Enteros’ recommendations were developed and carried out as part of an adaptive reuse plan, the firm estimates it would cost just over $11.4 million to complete, with the vast majority of the costs tied to work on the interior and exterior of the Central Wellness Center itself.

The company also presented a phased approach to renovating the center, which would see handicapped accessibility improved through a ramp replacement along with improving access to the first-floor restrooms. Additionally, those restrooms would see heating installed and an exhaust system, alongside other plumbing improvements. On the electrical and fire protection side, a new main for electrical service would be installed, along with a new fire alarm and sprinkler system.

In total, executing this first phase of the project would cost approximately $1.3 million, according to Enteros’ calculations. This project would be repaid through the general fund over 15 years, according to Ted Cole of Davenport and Company.

Through the borrowing, the county also plans to continue their support of broadband expansion as $1 million has been dedicated to the initiative, which will be transferred to the Prince George Industrial Development Board to develop a grant to help “improve broadband access to county schools, businesses, and residents.”

When asked, Drewry said this funding would be identical to action taken by supervisors in 2017 when county leaders approved $1 million from their spring borrowing that year that was going to be used for county-led broadband efforts but was instead provided to the IDA, who then granted the funds to Prince George Electric Cooperative in June of that year to support their fiber-to-the-home project. As part of that funding, the cooperative had to bring 500 new customers online with their service by July of 2021.

As of August of this year, PGEC officials said they have reached and exceeded that benchmark as their Ruralband high-speed internet product has been made available to over 1,100 homes, adding they remain committed to expanding further in the county while also bringing their product to neighboring communities like Sussex and Surry Counties and portions of Dinwiddie.

Similar to the Central Wellness Center’s repayment, the $1 million earmarked for broadband support will be repaid by the county over the course of 15 years.

Even though funding for the borrowing was approved last week, the county had already moved forward with purchasing vehicles for the police and sheriff’s department, with $400,000 being allocated to the replacement of high-mileage vehicles. With their action last week, the county will reimburse themselves with proceeds from the debt issuance.

According to documents from Davenport and Company, the county will end up paying $8,011,915 once paid off based on the roughly two-percent interest rate being offered by Zions Bank, which, according to Cole, has served as a lender to the county on previous occasions.

Before the board voted to move forward with the borrowing, resident William Steele expressed concern about proceeding with the borrowing when questions remain, referring to those raised by Foster regarding the county not seeing the recommendations from the fire apparatus committee.

“This is what I have been talking about,” he said. “You want to spend our money. If he has questions, we need to figure it out before you come back to the taxpayer and say, ‘Give me more money, give me more money.’ We are tired of taxes, we are tired of debt. We need some help here on this. If there are some questions, let get them answered and answers to us, the taxpayers, that [say], ‘We have taken every step we could, this is the best we can do. We have reduced all the waste in this county that is excessive and therefore, we will spend your money on that.’”

“If this gentleman has a question, then I have a question as a taxpayer,” Steele closed.

With the debt issuance now approved, officials with Davenport and Company said they expect to close on the loan by the middle of December.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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