08/09/07 — Officials crunch facilities numbers

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Officials crunch facilities numbers

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 9, 2007 1:45 PM

Now that the Wayne County Board of Education has given official approval to the priority listing of its long-term facilities plan, it's up to the county Board of Commissioners to begin figuring out how to fund the nine-project, $120 million request.

Of course, with school board members already agreeing to the list at their July 10 work session, county Manager Lee Smith has had some time to begin readying a presentation for the commissioners.

"Based on what I read in the newspapers, I've kind of used that as a guide for a financial plan for debt," he said.

He has also been reviewing the school system's estimates of construction and operational costs, as well as any extra costs such as running water and sewer, to satisfy that they are accurate.

"I want to make sure their estimates are correct," Smith said. "When you adopt a facilities plan, you adopt a lot of expenses, and I want to be real accurate with the amount."

The reason, he explained, is not only to give the commissioners and the Local Government Commission -- the state agency that must sign off on any borrowing -- the most accurate information possible, but also to make sure county residents are well-informed. To that end, he is also considering asking for a short narrative explaining the reasons for, and the impacts of, each project.

"Obviously some of these are moving targets, but we don't want to surprise people. Whatever we tell them should be as accurate as possible," Smith said.

Open information, he explained, is especially important since the county will need to find additional sources of revenue -- possibly through a tax increase -- regardless of whether the plan is funded through a bond referendum, certificates of participation or some other method.

He is hoping to have a detailed proposal for the commission by September.

"My office will come back with some sort of financial plan, and then it comes down to what the board of commissioners is willing to do," Smith said. "Obviously, the county cannot afford $100 million at once. It's going to have to be spread out over a number of years -- five or six."

And while that fact alone doesn't seem to bother the school board members, many seem to be impatient for work to at least begin.

"Things are moving along. Our stance has always been we want to move this along quicker, but we are at least moving," school Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said. "Maybe once we get it on the agenda in September, we can accelerate the process. I hope so."

Commission Chairman John Bell also said he hopes the process can move along quickly, but only if everything is in place to answer the questions of the LGC and other state agencies. He said that he thinks it's unlikely the board will meddle too much with the priority list itself.

Topping the list is the expansion of Brogden Primary School, followed by Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools at No. 2, and then Mount Olive Middle and the central attendance area schools. In the fifth spot is Spring Creek Elementary, followed by Charles B. Aycock High, Spring Creek and Grantham middle both at No. 8, and then Greenwood Middle and new elementary and middle schools in the northern end of the county.

And while the commissioners have not actually seen the school board's list yet, Bell said he doesn't anticipate it to be a controversial item for the board.

"I hope we would try not to get into that. That's their responsibility to determine what they want to do first. Our job is to try and find the money for them," he said. "As long as all the steps are in place, I think everybody is in agreement that those projects they're talking about should be done."