01/02/11 — County looks at school bonds

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County looks at school bonds

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 2, 2011 1:50 AM

Application for $15 million in federal bonds for school construction will once again be before Wayne County commissioners when they meet Tuesday morning.

The Wayne County Board of Education at its Dec. 6 session approved applying for the Qualified School Construction Bonds program for construction, repair and renovations at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools. It is now asking that commissioners join in the application.

Tuesday's meeting will start at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex. An agenda briefing will start at 8 a.m.

It won't be the first time commissioners have discussed the bonds or the school system's facilities plan. However, the county faces something of a time constraint -- the bonds have to be sold prior to Dec. 31. Then the county will have a three-year period to spend and complete the project.

Once approved for the program, the county would sell taxable bonds through the Qualified School Construction Bonds program that has been around for several years, county officials said. The bonds would be paid off over a 17-year period.

Interest on the bond payments would be $750,000 to $790,000 annually. However, the federal government would reimburse the county at the end of each year, making the bonds interest-free saving the county more than $12,750,000, county official said.

The county would utilize lottery proceeds to pay the principal and local funds for the interest.

One uncertainty, though, is how the Republican surge in Congress could affect the program. However, Bob High of Davenport and Co., the county's financial consultants, has told commissioners that should funding be cut for the program, the county could refinance.

The bonds and school project were discussed at commissioners' Dec. 7 session when it first appeared no action would be taken after Commissioner Jack Best said he wanted to see revised project plans as well as tour the sites prior to acting.

However, during the commissioners' comments section near the end of the meeting, the board did agree to allow Smith to start the paperwork process.

Nan Barwick, the school system's assistant superintendent for fiscal services, said that although some changes have been discussed, none have been made.

The county will still need approval from the North Carolina Local Government Commission, which will include resolutions and hearings by the county commissioners. The Local Government Commission will require actual bid documents, which means the process will take at least six months, Smith has said.

If not sold before December the bonds would be forfeited.

At their December meeting several commissioners voiced concerns about flooding issues at Norwayne. Water runoff will be a "big piece" of the project there, Ms. Barwick said.

The Norwayne project includes air conditioning the gym and the demolition of a classroom building to be replaced by a new two-story building.

The Eastern Wayne project also includes demolition and construction of a two-story building for classrooms and an administration area. Other work includes air conditioning for the kitchen and gym.