07/20/07 — Duplin still working on facilities proposal

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Duplin still working on facilities proposal

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 20, 2007 1:45 PM

With the debate about funding for teaching positions dominating most of Wednesday's meeting between the Duplin County boards of commissioners and education, the original purpose -- examining the school facilities plan and looking for funding options -- was largely ignored.

"We planned to talk about that today," Commissioner L.S. Guy said. "But we'll get to it."

He noted, though, that the facilities plan had already been approved once by the commissioners when it was originally proposed in 2005.

Several of his colleagues, though, are already questioning the proposed projects -- the building of a new high school to consolidate the students at James Kenan High School and students at East Duplin from the B.F. Grady area; the replacement of E.E. Smith and Warsaw middle schools with a consolidated middle school at the former James Kenan High School; and the construction of a new elementary school in the B.F. Grady area and the renovation of Charity Middle School.

Currently, the price tag for the plan is about $61 million.

"There needs to be a lot of discussion in terms of the school plan," Commissioner Cary Turner said. "The people in my district are not happy, and when I was campaigning, I said I'd vote for a school plan that had the consent of all the communities. Right now, this one doesn't have that."

But in terms of funding options, the meeting did serve its purpose.

Listening to a presentation from Vance Holloman, deputy treasurer for the state Local Government Commission, both boards learned how they might be able to afford the needed facilities.

One option is, of course, traditional general obligation bonds, which are backed by tax dollars and approved by a public referendum. Holloman explained that while they are the most secure and often cheapest financing option, they also are the slowest.

Other possibilities include installment purchases, either with single or multiple creditors. Both, however, come with their own sets of restrictions regarding how much money can be involved and how they can be paid for, but they also offer a speedier process. They are similar to a mortgage on a home.

The final option discussed was capital leases -- a new process that seemed to intrigue members of both boards.

Coming forward with that presentation was architect Robbie Ferris, who touted the flexibility of capital leasing.

Too often, he explained, with these other methods, particularly bonds, counties are working under a budget fixed sometimes years before the project actually moves forward. With the lease, the developer pays all the upfront costs, while the school simply pays rent once students move in.

Such a method for building a school, he continued, allows several things, not the least of which is the ability to take advantage of tax credits and other such options, especially in terms of energy conservation, to build better buildings.

"This offers tremendous long-term savings. We've got to stop looking at what it's going to cost today and start looking at what it's going to cost us in 30 years," he said.

But once he finished his presentation, neither board spent much time discussing any of the options, though the commissioners did indicate they wanted to hear more about the capital leases.