County to refinance bonds

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

When an investment banker comes calling it usually means it will cost someone money, but in Levy County's case it means a savings of approximately $300,000.

Ralph Cellon, senior vice president of Gardnyr Michael Capital, Inc., the firm which handles the sales tax revenue bonds used to finance the county jail expansion, told the Levy County Commission on Tuesday that refinancing the remaining portion of the $4.5 million bonds sold in 2003 would be in their best interest.

“Interest is the lowest now that it's been in 30 years,” he said. “This boils down to one thing, the opportunity for the county to save $300,000 at the rate of  $30,000 per year.”

The commission agreed and voted unanimously to refinance the bonds at the current lower interest rate of 2.286 percent — on average, compared to the current 4.3 percent on average. 

Cellon did advise the board that it could put the money it saved into a reserve account, but to have a plan for its use. He said if there was no plan in place the money would be spent “dribbling away in bits and pieces.” 

“If you give politicians money they're going to go out and spend it,” said Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2).

One suggestion for spending some of the savings was County Clerk Danny Shipp. The clerk, a Democrat seeking re-election on Nov. 6 against Republican Wilbur Dean, said, “I would like to see a plan to give the (county) employees a raise.” 

Shipp said it has been five years since employees have had a raise. But the commission, while not handing out raises has picked up the increases in health insurance premiums for employees in the meantime. 

The clerk said, “There's a lot of things the county needs to do with this money.” 

County Coordinator Fred Moody said the county owns 21 acres of land, minus five acres recently deeded to the health department that will need to be developed. 

Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston (R-District 1) who is also seeking election Nov. 6 in Commission District 3, said the roof in the courthouse is leaking and needs to be fixed, as well. 

Commissioner Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 2) said, “I would like to see a plan … and I would like to see the roof fixed.” 

Commission Chair Danny Stevens of Williston, (D-District 5) said he would like to see a spending plan with a timeline and asked the commission to put off drawing up a plan until after the elections are over and the new commission is installed in January. “Seats are going to be filled and Mike's up for election.”

The commission agreed to hold a workshop in conjunction with its Jan. 22 meeting.

Civic activist Renate Cannon put her blessing on the spending plan, saying the money should be put in escrow. “That way there won't be any slick fingers in the cookie jar.”