$6.5 million debt issue could fund Victoria County projects
March 17, 2014 at 4:03 p.m.
Updated March 16, 2014 at 10:17 p.m.
Victoria County officials plan to take on $6.5 million in new debt this spring to rebuild roads, renovate new properties and expand courtrooms.
During Monday's commissioners court meeting, the county's financial advisor, Bob Henderson, said the county could take on the debt as a multimillion-dollar bond issue and keep the tax rate at the same level. However, they would need to whittle down the $7.3 million-project list.
County Judge Don Pozzi said he wants the $6.5 million debt issue approved by June.
"We have projects that are moving forward already," he said. "The interest rates will likely rise; now is a good time."
The county already spent $305,150 to purchase the Goldman Street Hartman Distributing building and will likely spend another $600,000 to renovate it for office space and the justice of the peace Precinct 1 courtroom. Both expenses would be paid for with the bond.
To expand the courts housed at the Bridge Street courthouse, commissioners are considering spending $2.5 million to remodel the historic fire station on the same block. Other projects that could be funded through the multimillion-dollar bond are the $1.46 million rebuild of Canal and Old Bloomington roads in Precinct 1, asbestos abatements, a generator for the emergency operations center and new offices for justice of the peace Precincts 2 and 4.
As of Monday, the commissioners have not voted on which projects they would pay for with debt.
The county has an AA bond rating from Fitch Ratings with about $8.3 million in outstanding debt, $925,000 of which will be paid off by 2016. The fund balance, as of February, was about $13.3 million.
Henderson said the county has "done a tremendous job" during the past decade surviving the financial crisis, rebuilding its fund balances and increasing its bond ratings.
The county is in a good position, from a financial perspective, to address needs for capital improvements to spur growth and maintain services, Henderson said.
Any projects not funded out of the bond issue could be paid with commissioners' approval out of the fund balance.
Ernie Byrd, a Victoria County resident, spoke during Monday's meeting against taking on more debt.
He said the courtroom expansion could be resolved with more efficient scheduling and balked at the estimates to renovate the Hartman Distributing building.
"You could have built a heck of a building right over here for $1 million," Byrd said.
The state dictates any changes to the historic downtown block with the courthouse, and the new justice of the peace Precinct 1 office needs to be in the precinct, Pozzi said.
Once the debt is approved, the county will have three years to spend the money and can recoup the cost of purchases made 18 months before.
Pozzi lost his run for re-election in the March primary and would not comment whether he wants to move forward on the projects because of new leadership coming in.
"It would be my hope that this commissioners court would move Victoria County forward in the right direction," Pozzi said. "This is a necessary part of that process."