County approves bond issuance for major projects
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
It’s off to the bond market for the County Commission as the body approved the general obligation bond issuance of three major projects Monday night.
The county will go to the bond market in November to borrow about $110 million for previously approved projects including design plans for the new Nolensville K-8 school and high school, the construction of the new county public safety facility and partial funding of the expansion of Williamson Medical Center including pediatrics, surgical and pharmacy.
During county office reports, Kathy Danner, District 4, expressed her concerns to County Mayor Rogers Anderson about the high price tags of the projects and their future effect on the county.
Danner cited the county’s looming $462 million debt along with the $110 million to be borrowed as a growing concern. She acknowledged that a payment of $49 million towards the debt would be made this year.
The new $25.1 million public safety facility – Emergency Operations Center – to be constructed by 2016 was approved earlier this fall, while $30 million was approved for partial funding of the hospital expansion (a project totaling $65 million). Williamson County Schools will also see the funding of past projects come to fruition in a $19.4 million bond issuance including design plans for new schools in Nolensville, asphalt and roof and capital funds for maintenance and technology.
“What is the tipping point of our debt?” Danner asked Anderson. “What number will we reach where we will have to raise taxes?”
Although Anderson could not give the commissioner an exact number he said, Anderson explained that he believed that the county was handling money well considering the county’s growth and level of services.
Anderson reported that despite the county’s high rate of growth, the county has been able to keep costs down and budget conservatively.
He cited that the county has had a 100 percent increase of assessed value in the last ten years. “About ten years ago, we had about $4.2 billion in assessed value, now we have $8.6 billion,” Anderson said.
He also added that the Williamson County School student population has grown from 26,052 to 33,916 during that time.
“In the last ten years, I think we have demonstrated our ability to provide services that we are accustomed to. People are moving here. People are deciding that this is where they want to raise their families and work and send their children to our public schools.
“We asked our department heads and elected officials to tow the line on expenses,” he said.
“How can we prove that we have the backbone to handle our debt?”
The mayor explained that the county’s operating expenses have not increased in the past ten years and actually decreased by .5 percent. He also explained that about 169 people have been hired since 2003 in public safety and law enforcement – the county’s largest departments – including 32 School Resource Officers hired earlier this year.
The mayor also reported that the county is expected to grow well over a million people by 2040.
“I wish I could give you a number, but I think we can manage our debt. We have managed resources excellently over the last ten years.”
To be the fastest growing county in state, the county has continued to provide a high level of services Anderson said.
“Some people are nervous because the debt will reach a record amount. Also under your leadership and the commission, taxes have been raised during this term. I am just looking for some discernment and ability to prioritize so that we don’t get ourselves in a corner … ,” Danner said.
Pay increase for commissioners fails
The county commission voted down a pay increase for themselves proposed by the mayor, which would reflect an increase from $500 to $750 a month.
“I am honored to serve this group and really appreciate the mayor’s interest and concern for our welfare. From my constituents, I have heard nothing but embarrassment about what’s going on in Washington,” Commissioner Judy Hayes, District 3, said.
“I think that the body [in Washington D.C.] could stand to take their pay and benefits away.
“I see our job as public servants and not politics. I oppose this [pay raise] personally.”
Posted on: 10/15/2013