County Approves $50 Million Bond Issue
Moore County will issue $50 million in limited obligation bonds to pay for construction of the planned public safety-detention center and to cover major utility improvements in Pinehurst.
The 3-2 vote by the Moore County Board of Commissioners on Monday night followed a lengthy public hearing dominated by speakers opposed to building such a large jail in downtown Carthage. The transaction is expected in September.
"If this is a really good idea, it will still be a good idea in three months," said Southern Pines attorney Jamie Clark, who was speaking on behalf of a group opposing the downtown detention center.
Clark and other speakers said the issue should be placed before the voters in a referendum.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan, who is the vice chairwoman, tried unsuccessfully to amend the original motion by Commissioner Nick Picerno to require a referendum. Her motion failed 3-2, with only Chairman Tim Lea siding with Morgan. Commissioners Jimmy Melton and Larry Caddell voted with Picerno in opposing the amendment, then voted to approve the original motion to issue $50 million in limited obligation bonds.
This type of bond issue does not require a public referendum.
"In a few months I'll be sitting on the other side," Morgan said, refering to her defeat in the May Republican primary election. She will leave the board at the end of the year.
Her amendment called for the county to place the issue on the ballot for the November general election.
In making his motion to approve the resolution authorizing the bond issue, Picerno said the decision to build the larger detention center and public safety complex is not recent. He said the county has been discussing and planning the major capital project for more than two years.
"We're not voting to build a jail," Picerno said.
The subject of the hearing was how to finance construction of the complex, estimated to cost $39 million, and to finance another $10 million in miscellaneous utility projects, most serving the Pinehurst section of the county utility system. Payment for the utility projects will come from the county's public utilities enterprise fund, made up of user fees paid by customers, and not from county taxpayers.
Most of the 13 speakers emphasized their opposition to building the detention center in downtown Carthage.
The hearing became emotional at times, with two women accompanied by children to illustrate their concern about construction of such a large jail in an area frequented by children.
The site, a 21-acre tract adjacent to the existing detention center, is located near a school athletic field, churches and the county library.
"You should hang your heads in shame if you continue with this plan," said Elizabeth Riley, closing her remarks with "Shame, dirty shame" as she left the speaker's stand.
Rita Booth, a Carthage teacher, had previously reviewed the sex offender registration law, named in memory of a child, Jessica, who was brutally raped and murdered. She said the Carthage school ballfield is within 300 yards of the proposed detention center, the limit specified for sex offenders to be barred from the presence of children.
Steve Ennis, a real estate broker in Carthage, asked the board to delay action until more questions about related issues are answered.
Bert Patrick, a leader of the opposition group, repeated her objections and added that the county's failure to address underground water and sewer issues at the site represents "a lack of due diligence." She said the county's failure to notify the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources reflects "a most serious omission."
Patrick said the county already has a bonded indebtedness in excess of $100 million, most for general obligation bonds issued for school capital projects. She said this bond issue would bring the county's total debt to more than $150 million.
"This is not right," she said.
Andy Booth had a series of questions about the bonds. He wanted to know what happens if the county defaults and how the new debt would affect the county's bond rating. He said the project needs more planning.
Libby Moodie brought up the subject of conflict of interest by individual commissioners and said they should recuse themselves from the vote because they stand to profit from the project. Lea stopped her from naming names and cited board policy in the conduct of public hearings and public comment during meetings.
William Garner, of Pinebluff, said the public should have an opportunity to vote on the issue.
"This is an opportunity to regroup and come up with a better idea," he said.
Beth McNealy, of Carthage, cited a need for transparency and the truth, something that has been lacking so far, she said.
"It's never too late to do the right thing," McNealy said.
The original amount, $52.5 million, was reduced at the suggestion of Ted Cole, the county's financial consultant with the Davenport Group.
Cole said the earlier cost calculations included $3.5 million in potential bond requirements, something that he said should not be needed and was added only as "a cushion."
"I think it's very unlikely you will need a bond reserve," Cole said during a presentation preceding the public hearing.
Cole defined limited obligation bonds as a type of installment purchase agreement, similar to the type of payment made for the purchase of the 21 acres in 2007. Under this type of agreement, the county pledges the property and improvements as collateral for debt. Such bonds are also known as Certificates of Participation.
Although limited obligation bonds may draw slightly higher interest rates, Cole said they offer the advantage of allowing the county "to go to market quickly and take advantage of historically low interest rates."
The $39,004,292 estimated total cost of the building includes $33,168,213 for construction, $1,664,600 for architect, engineering and other professional fees, $1,290,320 for furnishings and the remainder for contingency and miscellaneous costs. The building will provide 110,500 square feet for jail space, 33,500 square feet for the Sheriff's Office, with the remaining space devoted to public safety.
Jail Can Be Expanded
Early in the meeting, the commissioners took time to review a series of questions and answers raised by critics and the commissioners earlier in the planning process.
Chief Deputy Neil Godfrey, who chairs the Major Capital Projects Task Force, fielded most of these answers, with help from Public Works Director Dennis Brobst and architect Glenn Ware of the Ware-Bonsall firm.
Godfrey said the county has no plans to house inmates from other jurisdictions. The new jail will provide 192 beds and, with the addition of 68 beds from the newer portion of the existing jail, the total will be 260 beds.
A survey of facility needs indicated that by 2030 the county is projected to need between 190 and 265 beds. Under the current master plan, an additional pod could be built to house another 200 to 250 inmates, bringing the total capacity to 500, if needed.
The issue of computer software was also addressed. Godfrey reviewed the Sheriff's Office's acquisition of computer software for records management and other purposes in 2003. That service did not cover a number of other needs, such as records for gun permits and sex offender registration, and deputies could not access records while in the field.
Southern Software later provided additional software with user leases, and in 2007 the company donated $350,000 in software to the sheriff's department. The Southern Pines-based company is directed by Caddell, chief executive officer, and Picerno, the founder, continues to serve as chairman of the board but has no day-to-day say in operations. The company is now owned by the employees.
A state law exception was cited in which counties may be exempt from limited transactions in which a public official holds an interest if the county has no municipality with a population in excess of 15,000.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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