The Wise County Board of Supervisors met in a Workshop meeting on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors meeting room located in the Wise County courthouse. The following were present:
Honorable Robert E. Robbins, Jr., Chairman
Honorable J. H. Rivers, Vice-Chair
Honorable Dana Kilgore
Honorable Virginia Meador
Honorable Robert R. Adkins
Honorable Steve Bates
Honorable Fred Luntsford, members of said Board and
Shannon C. Scott – County Administrator
David L. Cox – Financial Administrator
Karen T. Mullins – County Attorney
Annette Underwood – Executive Secretary
Honorable Ronnie Shortt
All led in the pledge of allegiance to the flag.
IN RE: AGENDA
The following item was added to the agenda or deleted:
Under Presentations Add: Wise County Schools (Dr. Jeff Perry)
Under New Business Delete: Resolution Expanding Software Engineering Funding
Under New Business: Move Debt Management Discussion before School System Financing
IN RE: ROADS AND HIGHWAYS
Residency Administrator T. G. Branson told the Board the possibility of a traffic signal at the intersection of Business 23 and Rt. 23 will require a letter of request or a resolution requesting the signal study.
Regarding the warning flashing lights to be installed a the intersection of Rt. 23 and Business 23 Pound, flashing lights are in place before this intersection on Rt. 23, warning of the “Signal Ahead”. This area does not meet the current criteria for a Warning Sign that alerts traffic before a change in the signal.
Supervisor Shortt asked that a speed study be done for Rt. 637 Holly Field Road / Pen Hollow Road on Right Fork of Bold Camp in the Pound area.
David Yeary, resident of Wise County, voiced his support for the restoration of elk in Wise County. He provided the Board with information regarding the benefits this would bring to the County including a boost to the economy, tourism, impact on purchasing equipment supplies, food, lodging and other commodities.
Wayne Yeary, resident of Wise County, supports elk restoration in Wise County because of the impact it would have on tourism and the economy as a whole.
Frank Kilgore told the Board that he had worked with Buchanan County putting in a law school and a pharmacy school and during that process they have renovated three schools. He reviewed the renovations that were done and the costs. He invited the School Board to tour the Buchanan County facilities and also the Board of Supervisors before any decisions are made regarding Wise County high schools. Mr. Kilgore stated that keeping schools in communities is a plus for keeping the community together.
Walter Crouse, a resident of Hurricane, spoke on the following items:
Asked the Board to re-consider the debt limit. He said the County cannot afford three (3) schools. Regional is the way to go
Do away with block scheduling in the schools.
Oppose bringing elk into Wise County
Stop Littering on the highways. This discourages tourism in our area
Congratulated Mike Ball on the good job done on the courthouse exterior
Marlene Bush, resident of Appalachia, was in agreement that the debt management policy should be left as is. She questioned the Board as to why they were looking to have someone look over Finance Administrator Cox’s shoulder. The County pays Mr. Cox to do a job and the County should have enough confidence in him to accept his work without having to second guess him and hire someone else to check his work. She questioned giving the $200,000 to the Wise Inn Project when there are needs in the schools.
Harold Greear, a resident of Pound, spoke on the following:
Prove to the citizens that the new schools will not bring a tax increase
The County cannot afford three (3) new schools
Figures for the proposed schools are under costs
School funding cuts from the state will make a difference
School property is not being maintained properly
Opposes giving funds from the motel/hotel tax to the Wise Inn Project
Jay Swinney, resident of Appalachia, voiced his opposition to school consolidation. If the school in Appalachia is closed, taxes remain the same but the value of his home will depreciate due to lack of a school in his community.
Edgar Martin voiced his support for bringing elk into Wise County. Hunting elk will bring money into this area that can be used for schools and other needs in the County.
There being no further comments, the public expression period was closed at 6:45 p.m.
IN RE: WISE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Superintendent of Public Schools, Dr. Jeff Perry, told the Board that the School Board is at the place where something must be done to modernize the high schools. The School Board is asking if there is some way a compromise can be reached and determine if there are any common grounds that can be reached to allow the school system to move forward. Being elected as leaders, it is their responsibility to come up with a plan that serves the needs of the children in Wise County. The current physical state of the high schools in Wise County is not anything to be proud of. It is not good for the children, the teachers and other staff personnel to work in these rundown facilities that have been ignored for years. The present facilities do not meet the standards for technology upgrades. Dr. Perry asked what the School Board must do to get the Board of Supervisors to enable them to move forward with modernization of the high schools. He asked for some response at this meeting or as soon as possible.
Dr. Perry was asked how the initial $99M construction cost for the schools could be reduced since the downturn in the economy.
Dr. Perry explained that the numbers given to the Board was very conservative and the costs were not expected to exceed that particular amount. Those numbers, at that time, were derived from $175.00 - $200.00 per sq. ft. After talking to a construction firm and one in particular that recently constructed a school, the square footage was below $120.00. That would bring a huge savings in the 131,000 square feet per school as quoted to the Board early on. He reiterated that it’s not always about the amount of money you borrow but the interest rate at which you borrow. The initial numbers were also based on some of the higher bond rates which have fallen significantly. The figures $90-$100M can be reduced by doing certain things and not sacrificing quality. The one thing that he asked of the Board is to provide a number to allow the School Board to ascertain whether or not the schools could be built for that amount and still maintain the quality and the integrity of the instructional program.
Dr. Perry explained that since the stimulus money is mostly gone for renovation and construction, the biggest thing this Board could take advantage of today by acting quickly, is the low interest bonds. There is a possibility of getting in on the next round of zero or low interest bonds, if the Board were to act quickly.
Dr. Perry noted that one of the things the School Board wants to do is get together to work out a solution to ascertain whether or not there is a compromise. If there is not, then the School Board would need to look at a different plan to better serve the needs of the children and the teachers within the classrooms.
Supervisor Luntsford asked that the School Board make a request that this issue go to referendum. He also asked for plans on renovation which has been said to cost less than consolidation.
Chairman Robbins and Supervisor Shortt echoed Mr. Luntsford’s recommendation of placing this issue on a referendum for the citizens to make the choice on funding the schools due to the large amount of money and the debt being placed upon the citizens.
Supervisor Bates stated that the County cannot continue to fund six high schools. Consolidation is a way to save tax payers money. He believes a referendum will tell the Board that the majority of the citizens want new schools. However, the window of opportunity for savings will have past and the schools will cost millions more to build. The students are not being prepared for college due to lack of new technology in the schools. The teachers, personnel, and students are suffering from “lack” in the classrooms. Now is the time to move forward.
Supervisor Kilgore voiced her concern on waiting for a referendum and losing the low interest rates which will cost the County more as time goes on.
Dr. Perry stated that he understands the desire to keep all community schools open and the emotional attachment to that. However, it’s time to go beyond the emotional attachment and do the courageous thing and make a decision based on factual information and base the information on leadership which this Board is elected to do. By waiting, everyone will lose. It’s not about renovation. That could be done cheaper. But a few years down the road, new schools will have to be built when interest rates and construction costs are higher costing the tax payers a great deal more money.
Chairman Robbins explained the County’s financial status at present time with the possibility of giving $30M for schools. He noted that in 2012 that figure could change.
Supervisor Rivers stated that Financial Administrator Cox told the Board that they could afford $72.3M based on future cash flow. The County’s current indebtness is $19.3M . It’s the Board’s decision on what is priority in Wise County for using the remaining funds. High school education is important to economic development in Wise County and no better way to spend tax payers’ money.
Supervisor Meador stated that her understanding of Mr. Cox’s report was that the County has $20M debt and $20M would be needed for County projects that would take place within the next twenty years which leaves $32M if the management policy was changed. The $32M plus the $9M making a total of $41M would be the approximate amount available for the schools. This Board cannot support $90-$100M for the schools.
There was a lengthy discussion on debt service, immediate financial needs for the County, and the financial status of the County.
Supervisor Kilgore noted that Mr. Cox recommended that the Board change the debt policy because it is out of date and before the power plant. With there being some doubt on changing the debt policy it was suggested that a private firm be brought in to re-affirm Mr. Cox’s figures. If the debt policy is changed, there would be a debt limit of $72M. In 2012, the debt limit would be $90M. This would mean there would be a three year delay in other County projects. She further noted that the Board has never considered a tax increase but no one knows what the future holds.
Dr. Perry explained that if they experience the budget cuts that could possibly come in the spring, the Board of Supervisors will have to fill that entire amount which could be in excess of $1M and continue to do so until the State picks back up if its ever returned. At the present time, the State is saying that some of the cuts will be permanent. The school system will have to make cuts and other difficult decisions. This is a reality and not a threat. The only cuts that can be made are in the high schools. Several teachers at this time are teaching single digit number students per class. The inefficacity lays in the high schools where there are so many teachers teaching a few students.
Supervisor Meador stated that the School Board is requesting more than this Board can afford and need to make changes in their plans. All this Board is responsible for is to the tax payers and to see that the Board prudently gives the school all that they can.
Dr. Perry stated that the School Board does not want to ask this Board to go beyond it’s financial means to finance the schools. Many other needs are out there for the citizens. This Board has to make good economic decisions. The School Board does not want the Board to extend itself beyond that which the Board is comfortable in doing. But he would hope that comfort level is based on an unemotional response and not based on feeling toward consolidation or renovation.
If there is a situation where a deferred payment would be of any benefit to this county, there are some companies willing to do that. None of that is free but it would bridge the gap for several years and enable the School Board to move forward and take advantage of the low construction cost and low interest rates. All the School Board is asking of this Board is to provide them with the amount of money that the Board can financially afford. That amount will be taken back to the School Board and a plan will be made based on that.
Regarding a deferred payment, that is a contractual agreement that would be made with the construction company with the payment being based on the interest rate that was negotiated with the construction company.
Supervisor Rivers said he was willing to commit $32M of new debt, which does not include the $9M in reserve, without Dominion in the mix and up to $60M with Dominion.
Supervisors Bates said schools are important for economic growth. If the County keeps moving forward as planned the Board should be able to commit to $60M.
Supervisors Shortt asked what would be done with $30M since that is not the goal for the three (3) schools.
Dr. Perry said the only plans at this time are for three (3) schools. If that changes, the School Board would have to go thru the public process. The RFP’s would be released and the first phase, which is the PER, and that would give a rough estimate of what the three (3) schools would cost. According to those cost estimates, two (2) schools with the other one being built after Dominion comes on board.
IN RE: CONSENT AGENDA
The following items were reviewed under the consent agenda:
Appropriations – 2nd Quarter
Request for Wise County Permit - Dickenson County Ambulance Services
Resolution Honoring Rescue Squads 50th Anniversary
IN RE: OTHER ITEMS REVIEWED
Resolution Opposing Elk Restoration
Debt Management Discussion
School System Financing
Norton Utility Agreement
Approval of contract to clean exterior walls
Report on oral rabies vaccine for raccoons
The Wise Inn
Closed Session –Personnel & Investing of public funds
Comcast – Citizens Update
Reports – Finance Administrator
IN RE: WISE INN
Supervisor Adkins suggested using the Occupancy and Transient tax for the Wise Inn Project since these funds can only be used for tourism.
Supervisor Meador questioned the use of these funds such as paying the Recreational Authority members.
Attorney Mullins noted that these funds are to be used to promote tourism and cannot be used for projects such as parking, schools, roads and etc.
Administrator Scott reviewed the different items that could possibly be paid from this fund if it pertains to tourism. But it must be spent for tourism. The $700,000 that has been made available to the Wise Inn is in jeopardy if there is not shown to be some local commitment to the project. As of May 1, 2010, the following details must have been addressed: The parking problem in and around the Inn/courthouse area must be identified; the total dollars to restore the Inn must be identified; a developer and an operator must have been selected. As of September 1, 2010, bids for construction of the project must be let. Unless these needs have been met, and the show of local support, the $700,000 will be reclaimed. The IDA just recently received a letter stating that they must reapply for the $700,000 grant because Richmond did not see any local support for the project. This project will benefit the whole area in regard to promoting tourism
Supervisor Meador stated that they have told their people that the Board will not put any local money into this project. She asked if this fund is considered local money.
It was noted that these funds are not local tax dollars and there are restrictions as to how these funds can be spent.
Administrator Scott was asked to provide an update on possible options that are available to Culby Supply for sewer service.
There were some comments made regarding the need to change to debt policy because it is out of date and the need to move forward with the schools since there is a window of opportunity for low construction costs and bond rates.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the meeting adjourned at 8:40 p.m.
ATTEST: WISE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
Shannon C. Scott, Clerk Robert E. Robbins, Jr., Chairman