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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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County eyes ‘generational’ capital improvement plan
New career and tech center part of $110 million cost
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Architect Rendering: This drawing represents Option 2 of the possible plans to expand Franklin County High School. Option 1 would simply provide a new career and tech center (long building to the left of the Central Gym above).

Friday, August 16, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

Franklin County is solid enough financially to embark on a "generational" capital improvement plan (CIP) at a cost of about $110 million for projects, including a new career and technical center at the high school.

That was the message presented by financial advisors Wednesday during the board of supervisors' annual retreat.

David Rose with the county's financial advisors Davenport & Company, detailed scenarios that included the possible start of several big ticket projects during the next few years.

A new career and technical center with a price tag of about $50 million topped the list.

Other projects possible in the near future included $3 million for a business park (2014), $2.5 million for public safety stations in Westlake and Glade Hill (2014), $2.3 million to cover the cost of the recent acquisition of the YMCA building and Essig Center (2013), $14 million for a new radio system for first-responders (2016), $5.2 million for a new building for social services (2016), and $9 million for business park expansion (2016).

The long-term cost of the new landfill totals more than $20 million between 2017 and 2029.

As far as the cost to taxpayers, even if all of these projects do get the go-ahead on schedule, a real estate tax increase of only 1 cent would be needed in 2015 and 5.25 cents in 2018, depending on which scenario the county would use to pay back the debt.

Another option, Rose said, would be to do as many municipalities do, revert to a twice-a-year real estate tax payment plan, and use the estimated $17 million one-time windfall to reduce the borrowing requirement.

That option could mean a 1-cent real estate tax increase in 2015, 2.25 cents in 2021 and 3 cents in 2023.

Rose said this is a "generational," or once-in-a-lifetime, CIP plan, one that tackles large projects that have been identified as long-term needs.

Rose also emphasized that the figures used are based on relatively low interest rates (assuming a small increase) and the current revenue figures for the county.

"We held them (county revenues) flat (in calculations)," he said, adding that it is likely any projected tax increases would be less than predicted.

That's because property values will most likely increase (in the 2016 reassessment) and other revenue sources will improve as well, he said.

"You are really in terrific shape in terms of your (current) debt," Rose said, explaining that with the county's "very strong" bond rating and other criteria, including debt service, the county can "take on new debt responsibly."

Rose said that in every category related to financial standing, including bond rating, debt capacity, fund balance ratio and debt affordability, Franklin County is in better shape than almost every county in the region.

The county is in a position to take "full advantage" of the bond rating and historically low interest rates to get these projects accomplished, he said.

If the proposed multi-year capital improvement plan is executed, the county will continue to meet all of its financial policy guidelines, he added.

The county set aside $1.5 million this budget year for design work on the new career and technical center.

County Administrator Rick Huff said after the initial plans are in place regarding location and building details, which are still being examined, the design itself will take about a year.

A committee has been working on a new career and tech center for a couple of years and presented possible options in design and location to the school board in October 2012. But no option has yet been selected and the $50 million price tag is an estimate.

Chris Whitlow, assistant county administrator, emphasized that this is all part of long-term planning, and the scenario is based on the interest in a new career and technical education center.

"These were conservative scenarios in planning," he said, referring to possible costs and real estate tax hikes. "It was based on the assumption that interest rates would not change much and there would be no revenue growth in the county."

Rose said he will be on the agenda of Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting to discuss the first round of projects.

Those projects, at a cost of $9.5 million, include the 2014 business park, public safety stations and the YMCA/Essig Center payback to the county.

Rose will ask for the approval to explore all possible funding opportunities for those projects.

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