Commissioners Looking For Loans For Capital Improvement Projects

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A $1.8 million loan to pay for capital improvement projects at Athens County government facilities might get the go-ahead next week from the county commissioners.

Commission President Lenny Eliason indicated he'd hoped that action could be taken at Tuesday's commissioners meeting, but it was learned that County Auditor Jill Thompson must act first and she expressed reservations about moving so quickly.

Thompson said she first saw a copy of the resolution (authorizing the loan) on Tuesday afternoon.

"I think this is a big venture for our size county," Thompson told the commissioners.

The commissioners would be borrowing the money from county coffers — County Treasurer Bill Bias would be making the loan — meaning that interest from the loan would be paid to the county itself. The proposed loan would be at 1.95 percent interest for five years, at which time a balloon payment would come due. The county could either pay off the remainder of the loan, renew the loan for another five years or sell bonds.

An advantage to the county treasury is that it would garner 1.95 percent interest on the loan, while most of the county's money is in certificates of deposit earning about 0.2 percent interest.

Annual payments on the loan would be just under $200,000, with most of that coming from the county general fund (income tax revenue), and part of it coming from the county engineer's budget.

Before the commissioners can approve a resolution to proceed with the loan, they need a certification from Thompson that the proposed interest rate is a market rate, and she would need to certify the useful life of the planned improvements — that they are, in fact, capital improvements.

Eliason said he had been under the mistaken understanding that Thompson could take those actions after the resolution was approved but before the loan closed.

The money would be used to build a salt storage facility for the county engineer's office, make energy efficiency improvements to the engineer's building, add a gas line to the building and install an emergency generator there, as well as put new windows in the Courthouse annex (Cline Building), do painting in the annex and Courthouse and buy computers and software for the treasurer's office.

Eliason said the computers and software would streamline the processing of checks by the treasurer's office, and also make it possible for people to pay their taxes online.
Commissioner Charlie Adkins, who said he also would like more time to study the proposed loan, questioned whether other projects should be included —  which would increase the amount of the loan.

Eliason acknowledged there are other projects that need done, but noted this is the first time the county has tried this funding procedure.

"We're dipping our toe in the water by doing this," Eliason said, adding that he is comfortable with the amount of the loan and the payment schedule.

Commissioner Chris Chmiel questioned whether the gas line at the engineer's facility will be needed if the energy improvements are made there. The facility is served by its own gas well, but County Engineer Jeff Maiden has said it sometimes does not provide enough gas.

"I'm just going by his (Maiden's) recommendation," Eliason said.