STARKVILLE — The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors voted Monday against a measure that would have gauged public interest in a bond package to repair county roads.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer introduced two avenues to generate funds to pave currently unpaved roads and repair worn roads throughout the county. He suggested a general obligation bond, which would include specific language to address multiple infrastructure needs, or pursuing state legislative change that would allow the county to use roads as collateral.
Trainer said the more conservative route would be the GO bond, to which he suggested using existing cash flow in the county’s budget to finance more than $900,000 a year in debt service on a $9.5 million bond issue.
Trainer and District 5 Supervisor Joe L. Williams voted in favor of publishing a notice of intent, which would have presented financing options and a detailed plan to residents. Board President Marvell Howard, along with District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson, voted against it.
After more than an hour of heated discussion between board members, the crux was finding money in the existing budget to service the debt each of the 12 years it will take to pay off the bond.
Trainer argued that the money could come from the road and bridge budget, which accounts for more than $5 million of the 2011-12 budget. Trainer also suggested shifting millage from other line items to help compensate and avoid lowering the road and bridge fund to a dangerous level.
But opposing supervisors, particularly Howard, were skeptical the board could comb through an already lean budget to come up with nearly $1 million. Raising taxes, Howard said, would be the most likely scenario.
“I think you’ll have a unanimous vote if you sit down and show us how to create a way without existing cash flow,” Howard said to Trainer. “But you still haven’t showed us how. I’m ready to vote for it. But my stance is still the same: I’m not about to ask taxpayers to burden another tax increase.”
Howard further blasted the notion that borrowing $9.5 million would provide significant improvement to roads that county crews can’t accomplish over 5-10 years. Factoring in the average cost to pave gravel roads, and the costs to contract the work ($472,000), the $9.5 million bond would account for 22 miles worth of newly-paved roads.
According to figures furnished by Howard, more than 40 miles of new roads have been built and paved in the last 10 years. More than 19 have been built in the past four. The figures didn’t include paved roads that were resurfaced.
“If you look at the direction our road department is headed, if we paved 20 miles over four years, I’d say our road department is headed in the right direction,” Howard said. “Our road department has asked for equipment that will speed up that process without raising taxes. I think our road department will be crippled by this bond (by lowering road allocation).”
Trainer said he and Howard have philosophical differences in how to address the 232.54 miles of gravel roads in the county. Trainer argued that interest rates — anywhere from 3.25 percent and 2.4 percent — are lower than in 2009, the last time he lobbied for such a move.
Trainer also said the move would help appreciate land values in the county and spur development.
“It’ll bring back a greater return over that 12 years,” Trainer said.
“We’ve got beautiful land in Chapel Hill,” Williams said, “but no one is going to move out there until those roads start getting paved.”
Still, without presenting a detailed plan of how to pay the annual debt service with existing cash flow, Howard, Jackson and Montgomery were steadfast against the notion of presenting a bond issue to the public.
Residents are paying off two bonds — the county road bond from 2001 and the $27.5 million hospital bond that passed in 2008. Residents who live in the city are paying off an additional $26.5 million Starkville School District bond issue.