What Did We Learn from County Bond Session?

Records Don’t Back County Claims

PARKER POE REP DODGES MEDIA QUESTIONS

WINNSBORO – A year and a half after $24 million worth of bonds were issued to finance an economic development plan for Fairfield County, County Council brought in Parker Poe bond consultant Ray Jones Monday night to explain for the first time to the public the two kinds of bonds that were issued, how they were issued and how they were financed.

Left unanswered, however, were pertinent questions from the audience, including one from The Independent Voice regarding clarification of how much it will cost the taxpayers of the County if Council pays off the $24 million bonds by issuing a number of general obligation bonds over a 20-year period as Jones suggested is the plan. Jones cut the question short and said he would be happy to explain it after the meeting.

Jones left the meeting early, but was tracked down by The Voice and again asked to explain the question. He refused, saying he would answer it later.

The explanation of the bonds and how they are financed was largely straightforward as Jones walked the Council and audience through what he called a very complicated financing process. In a power point presentation, however, he displayed quotes from The Voice that he labeled as “myths.” Those quotes criticized Council for not having explained the financing process to the public before the bonds were issued in March and April of 2013. Jones insisted there were nine instances during January, February, March and April of 2013 when the bonds were discussed thoroughly and in public.

“I draw your attention to the meetings that were held on March 25, 2013; April 8 and April 15, 2013,” Jones said. “It was at those meetings that the documents associated with the installment purchase revenue bond financing plan were both discussed and approved by the Council.”

While the bonds were indeed approved over the course of those meetings, digital recordings of those meetings offered no explanation or discussion by Council or then County Administrator Phil Hinely about the resolution passed that night, that it was establishing the non-profit Fairfield Facilities Corporation, the role of the Corporation or anything about how the bonds would be financed.

While Jones said the information was included in the document Council passed, that information was not discussed by Council in open session. Instead, before the vote, Ferguson read only the title of the resolution: “To provide authorization for an installment purchase plan of finance for certain capital projects in the county and other related matters.” There was no discussion about the resolution.

The County’s two newspapers did not print any information about any discussion by Council members regarding the contents of the resolution. Much of the discussions in those meetings that were referred to as “discussions of the bond” were actually presentations of the County’s economic development plan for projects.

On Monday evening, Jones gave much emphasis to the fact that the meetings, votes and “public hearing (were) lawfully advertised and held regarding this financing and regarding the documents then before Council,” and that “in open session on April 15, 2013, a third reading of Ordinance 614, which authorized Council’s pursuit of this financing plan (was held).”

Jones read from the documents that Council passed, but there is no record that the documents, the particulars of the issuance of the bonds or the plan for financing the bonds were discussed in open session at any of the meetings Jones listed.

Jones shed new light on the financing of the $24 million bonds, saying that the County was not dependent on the revenue from the nuclear plant to pay off the $24 million bonds. Rather, he said, the County could continue to issue general obligation bonds over the life of the $24 million bond without going over the County’s current 10.4 debt millage. When asked by Tom Connor of Ridgeway if there was the possibility that there would ever be tax relief from the 10.4 debt millage over the duration of the payoff of the $24 million bond, Jones said, “This model says we will not go over 10.4 mills. That’s all I can tell you.”

When asked by an unidentified woman in the audience, “How are we supposed to pay for this bond?” Jones replied, “The County is already levying a 10.4 millage debt service. As the (2009 $6.5 million) bond is paid down (in 2019), these new (general obligation bonds) will help the millage rate remain at 10.4 mills and that is sufficient for the County to repay the bonds in this model.”

In his presentation Monday evening, Jones discussed five key points: the County’s goals, why the County pursued installment purchase revenue bond financing, whether it was explained to the public, whether it was a legal, sound financing structure and if it had accomplished the County’s goals. The document is on the County’s website. Read more on Jones’ presentation in the Oct. 3 issue of The Independent Voice.