With interest rates and construction costs expected to increase, Columbia County should consider looking at a general obligation bond to pay for immediate needs, a consultant told county commissioners Tuesday.
"I truly believe we're facing a period of significant inflation, particularly in the construction industry," consulting engineer Robin Chasman said.
County officials are working on a list of capital projects to present to voters July 20, when they will decide whether they want to extend the county's 1-cent sales tax another five years.
Along with the list, which will likely include millions of dollars for parks and transportation improvements, commissioners must decide whether to include the possibility of a bond on the ballots.
During each of the county's three previous sales tax referendums, officials discussed adding language for a bond referendum but never have, Mr. Chasman said.
He said the benefit of issuing one would be to start construction earlier on new fire stations and equipment now that the county has taken over property tax collections for the service.
Otherwise, the county would have to wait for enough sales tax collections to come in to pay for the improvements.
The downside to seeking a general obligation bond, which cannot cover transportation projects, is that the county would have to pay interest and issuance fees.
Mr. Chasman's recommendation was that the county not consider a loan of more than $31.6 million.
Based on meetings with county residents, commissioners and department heads, Mr. Chasman compiled $177 million worth of projects needed during the next five years of the local sales tax cycle.
But he said that even with a robust economy and strong sales tax collections, the county should expect to receive $100 million at the most.
"As you can see, it's going to be impossible for you folks to meet all of your needs," he said.
The county currently collects about $1 million a month with its 1 percent sales tax - or $52 million during the five-year period.
Many of the projects on the list will have to be prioritized.
The Blanchard Woods park with new soccer fields could receive $3.8 million if voters approve the extension, according to Mr. Chasman's preliminary figures.
Twenty million for transportation projects and $4.3 million for new fire station buildings and renovations were included.
County commissioners are expected to vote on the list May 18.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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