By Tia Lynn Ivey
In a 3-to-1 vote, the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved a proposal to move forward with refinancing the jail service debt at a significantly lower interest rate, which requires the county to borrow more money in exchange. The BOC voted to borrow an extra $3 million for the purpose of capital improvement projects at the July 5 regular meeting.
“This is just a smart business decision,” said Andy Ainslie, who noted $3 million is a conservative figure, since all the capital improvement projects the county would like to see done in the near future could easily cost upwards of $4 million. The county currently pays about $2 million per year towards the $19 million bonds until 2023. The payments come out of SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds.
County Manager Michael Lamar urged the BOC to take advantage of this rare opportunity, which would bring the county’s interest rate of the jail debt as low as 1.49 percent as well as endow the county with significant cash-on-hand to fund projects that need to completed anyway.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is this: if we really feel like some of these projects are need-projects that are going to be done eventually anyway, then we must ask ‘are we ever going to be able to have enough cash-on-hand to pay for it in cash again?’ That’s probably a no. So then, the next thing we should ask ourselves is ‘will we ever be able to borrow this amount of money at this low of an interest rate again?’ I certainly don’t think so.”
“You really can’t get much lower than this rate,” added Ainslie.
Commissioners Andy Ainslie, Ellen Warren, and Ron Milton voted to approve borrowing an extra $3 million, with Commissioner Philip Clack opposing.
Clack did not feel comfortable voting to borrow such a large amount without first crafting a specific list of projects with solid cost estimates to use it on.
In the coming month, the BOC will create a “wish-list” of capital improvement projects that they would like to use the $3 million for. The list will then be narrowed down depending on priority of need and cost.
Some of the possibilities mentioned were new fire stations for Apalachee and Godfrey and new police vehicles and equipment for county law enforcement.
“A $3 million addition to the jail debt, in terms of money available, would do a lot of work that needs to be done sooner rather than later,” said Lamar
With the BOC borrowing this amount, Morgan County would be looking at payments of about $327,00 per year—which is currently close to the amount raised through SPLOST, according to Lamar.
Lamar explained the county currently raises about that amount in SPLOST revenue.
This would allow the County to fast-track 3 million dollars of projects for the equivalent of what is being raised in SPLOST money per month. The BOC is banking on the next SPLOST referendum to be approved regardless, since the county is already locked in to paying off the jail debt until 2023.
“The public is very smart about this issue,” said Ainslie. “If SPLOST weren’t to pass, that would amount to a 3 mil increase to make up for it. The homeowners of this county just aren’t going to allow that.”