Career Center Could be Put to Voters

The Fairfield County School Board got a clearer picture of how a new Career Center might be financed during their monthly meeting Oct. 16, held without microphones or amplification in the cafeteria at Geiger Elementary School in Ridgeway. The Board heard from Brent Jeffcoat, a bond attorney with the Pope Zeigler law firm, who laid out several options for how the district might pay for such a project.

Jeffcoat said the district had a bond debt capacity of approximately $9.5 million, $1.2 million of which is being used annually on capital needs for the district. That leaves the district with between $8 and $9 million in bond debt capacity for a facility that could cost an estimated $25 million to build.

“There are things we can do to stretch bond debt capacity a little bit,” Jeffcoat said, “but not three times the bond debt capacity for a facility.”

One option for the district, which would not include putting a referendum on the ballot, would be to issue the entire bond debt capacity with a one-year maturity.

“One year, a second year and in the third year you could do a longer term bond issue that would pay out over time,” Jeffcoat said. “The problem with that is that your millage rate would skyrocket.”

Jeffcoat said the millage rate under that scenario would jump to around 70 mils.

“It would be there for less time than it took for the voters to get you out of office,” Jeffcoat said.

Jeffcoat said tax dollars expected to come in from the new V.C. Summer nuclear reactors would not begin rolling into the county until 2019, and relying on those funds for relief would further set back a project that has already been identified as a need and in discussion for nearly a decade. Therefore, he said, a referendum would be necessary – the results of which would see the millage rate rise to only 16 mils.

“You’re currently using somewhere around 8 or 9 mils, so it’s not a huge increase,” Jeffcoat said.

Jeffcoat said the district also had other facilities that needed attention, and if the district was going to ask the voters for 16 mils, another mil or two could accomplish quite a bit. Then, he indicated, when the V.C. Summer money began coming in, those rates could come back down.

Another alternative, Jeffcoat said, would be for the district to ask their local legislative delegation for a local sales tax increase, which would require a piece of special legislation at the State House.

Discussions between Jeffcoat and the board in February centered around a $14 million Career Center project, a number that could have been handled with the district’s existing bond debt capacity, without a referendum. When that number went to $25 million, financing became more complicated, Jeffcoat said.

Board member Annie McDaniel (District 4) asked if the district could not consider a $14 million facility that could accommodate the 520 students currently enrolled at the existing Career Center and that could be expanded as needed in the future.

“At least we could get started,” McDaniel said, “to build certain phases of it. This is something we’ve been promising our children and our community for a long time. If the $14 million could accommodate a relatively decent facility, that we could add on to at an opportune time, is that attainable?”

Jeffcoat said it could be done and without a referendum.

J.R. Green, Superintendent, clarified that even a smaller project would result in some millage increase.

“I think there’s some confusion that if we go with a $15 million project that there would be no millage increase,” Green said.

The millage, Jeffcoat said, would go to 20 mils under that scenario.

“I think his (Jeffcoat’s) position is, which I would concur with, is if we are going to embark on such a project, we should go before the voters and say this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to fund it,” Green said. “I’m 100 percent for the Career Center, but I just want to be clear that if we move forward, millage is something that is relevant.”

McDaniel said the district had not raised its millage rate more than 2 percent since 2006.

“I would hope that if we choose to go out and push for the Career Center,” McDaniel said, “that the County would be along with us in realizing we are way, way, way removed and far behind, particularly with the kind of money that comes into this district, and not have a decent facility for our students.”

Jeffcoat said he could have some firm, definite numbers, detailing the district’s options, in two to three weeks.

Prior to Jeffcoat’s presentation, the Board voted 6-1 to accept MBAJ Architecture of Charlotte to head up the career center project. MBAJ has designed several schools, including South Pointe High School in Rock Hill.

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