By CARL SMITH
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in opposition of issuing a bond intent notice Monday after an extended debate on how to fund road projects without the burden of raising taxes.
Before the vote, District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer began discussion on funding sources for county infrastructure projects by suggesting the board investigate a $9.5 million bond issue at 3.25 percent interest over 12 years. The bond, Trainer said, would have a 3.36 mill impact on taxpayers, but funding could be reallocated from the county road budget to cover some of the note. By using language comparable to Lauderdale County’s general obligation bond issuances, the board could add flexibility and pave gravel roads, maintain county infrastructure and possibly construct other public facilities. The county would need to find almost $1 million per year to cover the note under Trainer’s formula.
“My goal is to show the board we have opportunities and options. (At the established rate) ... we could borrow $9.5 million and only pay back a little over $11 million,” he said. “The way the market is going, I think 3.25 (percent interest) is a worse-case scenario. We have to find $968,000 to service this within our existing framework; we can take a look at the whole budget.”
Board President Marvell Howard countered Trainer, saying reallocating money from the county road department would cause more harm than good. The county road department services 551.79 miles of county and state roads, while gravel roads make up 259.75 miles of that total. The Oktibbeha County Road Department is allocated 11.41 mills, which is a total of $3.38 million. Almost $2.5 million of the budget is spent on fixed items including salaries, gravel, asphalt, fuel and a $140,000 payment on a 2001 bond, and does not include equipment purchases or repairs, cross drains, culverts or road-building clay. The projected cost to build 1 mile of county road by the road department is $350,000. To fully pave 259.75 miles of gravel road, the county would need more than $90 million in funding.
Howard said he does not believe the budget has $1 million to spare since county agencies have prepared their budgets expecting cuts for the fiscal year.
“There’s no doubt every person sitting here wants to see every gravel road paved, but there are only two ways to get money: raise taxes or find it in our cash flow,” Trainer said before the vote. “Our road department has been busy. Over the last four years, over 19 miles of road have been paved in the county. That shows the direction of our road department. What you’re proposing to do is to take money away from the road department. (If the bond was passed) then you’ve increased taxes for 12 years for only 22 miles of road (using a formula which includes a 35 percent contracted estimate.)”
“We’ve got two philosophical differences,” Trainer said following Howard’s argument. “I come in with reasons why we can, and you come in with reasons why we can’t.”
After continued discussion, Trainer motioned for the board to seek a bond intent notice and was seconded by District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams. Trainer and Williams cast the only two votes in support of the intent, while Howard, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson voted against the measure.
Although the intent notice was defeated, Trainer said the county should hold public hearings to gauge taxpayers’ opinions before completely disregarding the idea.
“The vote we took today has no impact on our next meeting. We can come back to the table and look at it again,” Trainer said. “With previous bond issues, the board put the question to the citizens. If we hold a public hearing, I think a lot of people from the Tea Party to the garden club would have a lot of things to say. We’re talking about investing here, not putting money into a social program. We’re going to let the ‘sixth supervisor’ have a say.”
Howard said he welcomes public discussion on the possible millage matter despite standing in opposition of the bond intent notice.