By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
The Greene County Board of Supervisors took the final step to approve going forward with a general obligation school bond not to exceed $28.16 million at their August 22nd meeting. . Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) will purchase the bonds by the fall of this year.
The agenda item was presented during a public hearing – but no one showed up to comment. Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) took this to be a favorable commentary on the open process for the past two years leading up to tonight. She also indicated that she has received only positive feedback related to the project. Former Chairperson Bill Martin (Stanardsville) echoed the same sentiment and that the project will be good for the community and the school system.
Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) is the Board’s liaison to the schools and has been involved in the process over the past 30 months. He further stated that high schools are the most expensive schools to build and the project to renovate the high school and other schools in the Greene County School System is the most efficient way to provide quality educational facilities. At the same time, the study was a forward looking process with a look toward 20 years into the future.
Finally, Flynn said that the best way she could summarize the process is to quote Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) – “do it once and do it right”.The gross cost of the project of $28.16 million will cost nearly $41 million ($1.63 million x 25 years) assuming an interest rate of 3 % over 25 years. The accumulated Capital Fund Balance of $2.814 million represents excess tax revenue that taxpayers have paid in previous years. When Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) was asked if these funds should be used to help pay for the project, he indicated that Tracy Morris, Finance Director and Stephanie Deal, Treasurer indicated that these funds should be released over a period of time and not in a lump sum.
This raises the question – why?
Herring also indicated that the project will solicit quotes from multiple vendors and the project may cost less than the architects estimated – $28.16 million.
Logically, spending the $2.814 million at the beginning of the project would reduce the need for new tax revenue. Plus this is tax revenue already collected from taxpayers. One explanation not to spend it all up-front, has been that the unspent capital needs to be held back for unexpected capital requirements. That may be true to some degree, but it seems excessive to some observers.
The other comment in response to spending the $2.814 million excess capital is it would draw down cash too far. This seems to beg the question, how low should the cash balance be allowed to get down to – especially right before personal property taxes are collected in June and December (the lowest points each year).
The county has a Reserve Fund target, which includes cash and all assets which their auditors have recommended. But you can’t write checks against total assets, you have to have cash in the bank. As nationally known financial advisor Dave Ramsey advises – you need 3-6 months of living expenses on hand for emergencies.Perhaps Greene County could look to live by Dave’s advice.
If the Board is so inclined, they could easily agree on a transparent Cash Reserve Fund calculation so that a clear, well thought out policy can be developed.
Such a policy could provide the data to clearly determine how much cash could be spent to pay for the school project from excess capital funds. The concerns raised by the Treasurer and Finance Director are testament that there needs to be some safeguard – but it should be formalized. The current board may not spend too much but who is to say that a future board may be too aggressive and get the county back on the edge of bankruptcy.
The final question is – who determines if spending is to be made from the excess capital funds that the school system has accumulated. Per Herring, while the funds are designated for school capital funds, it is part of the overall county reserve position.
Currently, the determination of the usage of the excess capital reserve has not been decided. This needs to be clearly defined so that funds can be easily consumed when needed and done in conjunction with a Cash Reserve Policy so that the county doesn’t revert back to where it was several decades ago – nearly bankrupt.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: Greene county, Dave Ramsey