Haven, Higdon object to financing $1.8 million for the project
In a split 3-2 vote, the leaders of Macon County opted to fully develop the new recreational facility at Parker Meadows over the next year. With Commissioners Jim Tate, Ronnie Beale, and Kevin Corbin voting in favor of the project, the board had the majority vote to move forward.
Macon County commissioners had already approved the project, but were only obligated to minimally develop the project to obtain money from the state. After research into the cost of developing the project in phases compared to completing the project all at once, Recreation Director Seth Adams asked the county to consider different development options. According to Adams, the county will save a substantial amount by completing the project at one time, compared to contracting out different portions of the project over several years. In electricity costs alone, the county could save as much as $250,000.
Commissioner Paul Higdon spoke out in opposition of the project. Higdon commended the work Adams and his department have completed thus far, but stated that in this economy, he does not believe this project can be justified. “I believe we should take care of what we have, not just go out and spend money building something new,” said Higdon.
Higdon lead the charge early in Tuesday night’s meeting to encourage Adams to spend $7,500 out of the county’s recreational budget to pay for the maintenance of ball fields owned by the school system. While by statute, it is the school system’s responsibility to keep up the fields, Higdon explained that the county uses it for recreation league sports and he wanted to bring them up to par for the youth. Higdon noted that with the 12 existing fields accessible by the county being improved, new fields would no longer be needed.
Higdon also voiced concern regarding the impending tax revaluation. While commissioners committed not to increase taxes across the board, the mandated property revaluation will cause some taxes to increase, while others will decrease. “The cost of electricity is going up. The cost of fuel is going up, the cost of living is going up,” said Higdon. “I just do not think that taxpayers can afford the rec park right now.”
Commission Chair Kevin Corbin noted that he would not be in favor of any project that would require taxes to be raised to cover costs, but believes the county has it within their current budget to finance the rec park. The project, which is estimated to cost $3 million, will have a 15 percent contingency built in. The state has allocated $500,000 for the project, reducing the overall cost. With that, the county has enough in the fund balance to pay for the entire project out of pocket, something the county finance director has advised against. Finance Director Lori Hall asked commissioners to consider financing a portion of the project so as not to deplete the fund balance all at once because it could adversely affect the county’s credit rating.
The county’s fund balance is 34 percent of the general fund. State statute requires counties to keep a fund balance of eight percent of the general fund, and historically, Macon County commissioners have kept the fund balance at 25 percent of the general fund balance. Corbin suggested that the county allocate $1 million from the fund balance to go toward the project and finance the remaining $1.8 million in a 10 year loan with an anticipated interest rate of 2.4 percent.
Commissioner Ron Haven said he supports the idea of the recreational facility, and wants to provide a safe place for our youth, but would only be in favor of the project if it could be paid for out of existing funds without having to finance any of it. Financing the project will increase the county’s debt load, something Haven wants to avoid.
On a motion made by Tate and seconded by Beale, the board voted in favor of completing the project over the next year by paying $1 million out of the fund balance and financing the remaining balance.
Hall informed commissioners that the loan process would have to be vetted by the Local Government Commission, and approval for the project could take a few months. She gave a potential start construction date for June. Adams noted that if construction was started in June, the project would be completed by mid to late summer 2015.