At its meeting last Tuesday, the Monroe County council handled two $3-million items.
One was a transfer of $3 million to its rainy day fund. The other was a final approval on issuance of $3.1 million in general obligation bonds. The amount includes $3 million worth of capital projects and another $100,000 to cover transaction costs.
The rainy day fund transfers came in the context of a negative impact to local income tax revenue that’s expected in 2022. In that year, revenue will be based on individual earnings in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At last Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s council, county board of commissioners president Julie Thomas presented a list of projects that could be funded using proceeds from a $3-million general obligation (GO) bond.
It’s a routine strategy for the county, each year to set property taxes at a high enough rate to generate enough revenue to cover the repayment of short-term general obligation bonds.
The list presented by Thomas for this year included: trucks and heavy equipment for the highway department; support vehicles for the highway department; parks ADA projects; replacement of core switches in the justice building; radios for sheriff’s office; handheld narcotics analyzer; county vehicle refresh; renovations related to office move by highway and surveyor; and trail connections.
On Tuesday, the list did not appear to generate any red flags for county councilors. Last year, commissioners proposed a $5-million bond that drew sharp enough scrutiny from councilor Marty Hawk that the list of projects was trimmed down to about $3.3 million. This year’s proposal will get more consideration in the next few weeks before a vote is taken.
At a joint work session held Friday afternoon by Monroe County commissioners and councilors, the elected officials got a rundown of itemized cost estimates for projects to be funded with a $5-million general obligation (GO) bond.
The gathering grew out of some frustration on the part of councilors, expressed on Sept. 10, when the three-member board of commissioners first presented the proposed $5.17 million bond issuance to the council. On that occasion, councilors wanted to see the kind of detail they eventually got, on Friday.
County attorney Margie Rice told the group on Friday that she sensed some dissatisfaction from councilors with the earlier presentation—that’s why the extra session on Friday was convened. Rice told the councilors she’d never before seen this level of detail given to a county council for a bond issuance.
The detailed breakdown allowed the council to identify several items, adding up to $559,080, that they wanted to pull out of the bond proposal, and pay instead out of cash reserves or other funds. To be pulled off the list of bond projects were: renovating the Alexander Monument ($153,000); running fiber to the data center ($100,000); paving of a seating area on the courthouse grounds ($60,000); installing HVAC fans for the justice center ($50,000); and sealing the parking garage deck ($50,000), among other items.
Not a surprise was the idea of paying for the Alexander Monument using a source other than the bonds. Councilor Marty Hawk had advocated for that on Sept. 10, when she said that the county had enough cash to pay for the restoration of the veterans memorial. Hawk also objected at that time to the amount of the bond, which was $5.17 million. It was a change to state law that allows the county to bond for $5 million, plus a growth quotient, instead of just the $2 million worth of GO bonds the county has issued in years past.
Based on the discussion on Friday, the county council will be weighing whether to go ahead and bond for the roughly $5 million, or to ratchet the amount down to $3 million. Bonding for $3 million, according to the board of commissioners administrator Angie Purdie, would not increase tax rates. Bonding for $5 million would mean an extra $27.66 in property taxes paid by the owner of a house with a value of $200,000.
Among the items that’s still proposed to be paid out of the GO bond is election equipment costing around $1 million. County attorney Jeff Cockerill announced to the group on Friday that an RFP (request for proposals) would be made for the election equipment. Prospective vendors will be asked to appear in Monroe County on Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. to demonstrate their wares, Cockerill said. That comes after Monroe County’s election board appeared to have already recommended a choice of vendor, Hart Intercivic.
Alexander Memorial, Monroe County Courthouse Sept. 10, 2019
Councilor Marty Hawk
Councilor Geoff McKim
Councilor Kate Wiltz
Commissioner Julie Thomas
A presentation from Monroe County’s three commissioners to the seven-member county council on Tuesday night listed out a dozen and a half projects they want to pay for with one-year general obligation (GO) bonds. The not-to-exceed amount that the commissioners want the county council to authorize is $5.17 million.
Adding up the cost of the individual projects might come to that total, but councilors weren’t provided that information by commissioners on Tuesday. And they expressed their wish to have that information before voting on the bonds.
The list of items includes: propane conversions for vehicles in the county fleet; sealing of a parking garage top deck; purchase of some land that was declared a Superfund site by the EPA in the 1980s; refurbishment of the Alexander Memorial; voting equipment that will be deployed in the 2020 spring primaries; and a raft of other items.
One way to arrive at the $5.17 million figure is to check the statutory limit for the maximum allowable bond issuance, above which the proposal becomes what the state legislature calls a “controlled project.” This year that limit matches the amount the commissioners want the county to bond for: $5.17 million—any higher and the bond issuance would be subject to remonstrance and potential referendum.
The GO bonds were just up for a first reading Tuesday night. The vote will come at the county council’s next regular meeting, which is set for Oct. 8. That gives the councilors some time get the kind of cost details they are looking for.
During the meeting, the council’s president, Shelli Yoder, put together an ad hoc committee to look at paying cash for a few items instead of bonding for them.
Marty Hawk summed up her lack up of support for the bond by pointing to the amount, which is more than twice as much as the amount for which the county has bonded in past years: “I just think it’s over the top.”
Besides the ad hoc committee, another outcome of the back-and-forth between the council and commissioners was scheduling a special work session, before the Sept. 24 session already on the council’s schedule, for the 10 elected officials to talk about the projects on the list.