City rejects new revenue bond

Published 11:33 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The Americus city council voted against a new revenue bond at its Thursday session.¬¬
The bond, which had been discussed at two previous meetings, was brought to the table for a vote. Trey Monroe, representing Stifle Investment Services, was asked by Mayor Barry Blount to again give highlights of the proposed new bond issue which was to come through Sterling National Bank, a private institution. The new bond would have paid off two existing bonds, from 2010 and 2013, save the city debt service in the amount of $480,000 to $500,000 annually, and fund a list of infrastructure projects, which is flexible. The $21.1 million bond, for 20-year financing, would have been locked in a 3.57 percent interest rate.
During the discussion phase at Thursday’s meeting, Council member Daryl Dowdell asked the mayor if an engineer had been consulted about the project list. Blount said that no, Public Works Director Larry Riner came up with the list and the cost estimates. Blount stated, “If we don’t have the money, we can’t do any repairs to the system (water, wastewater, sewer, stormwater). These are estimates. We’re not hiring an engineer if we don’t have money for the projects.”
Council member Juanita Wilson expressed concern that they had previously been given a list of projects and had never told if they had been completed. Riner pointed out that those of those projects are ongoing. Wilson, “We never know about the interest rate. This [revenue bond] could be done at another time. We need to know what’s been completed before we take on another list.”
After some more discussion, Blount said, “If we don’t do this [revenue bond], we have no money to do the projects. With a new bond, we could reduce the debt service and have more money.”
Council member Nelson Brown said the council needs to be briefed on the lists for past and current revenue bonds and documentation of what’s been completed. “We should have communication and accountability on bond revenues and how its spent on which projects, if we are to be good stewards,” he said.
Blount pointed out that he had placed an item on the project list for new software for the finance department at a cost of about $400,000. “We could spend it right away if we had it,” he said.
Dowdell asked Trey Monroe if city finance director, Diadra Powell, had all the figures, and he said yes.
Council member Lou Chase made the motion to move ahead with the bond and was seconded by Council member Charles Christmas. Voting for were Chase and Christmas, and voting against were Council members Wilson, Dowdell, Brown and Kelvin Pless, so it was defeated 4-2.
Monroe reminded the mayor and council that the city will now be required to undergo a credit rating review, and he would follow up on that.
In other business, the city council took the following action:
• Approved a revision to the Service Delivery Strategy to allow the city of Plains to apply for a CDBG grant.
• Approved Grant Specialists of Georgia, based in Americus, to administer the 2019 CHIP grant.
• Amended the Personnel Ordinance to classify the finance director’s position the same as the fire chief and the police chief. Nelson Brown made the motion and was seconded by Wilson. It passed 4-2, with Brown, Wilson, Dowdell and Pless voting for, and Chase and Christmas voting against.
• Approved license for Sunita Solanki of Shell Food Mart, 602 W. Forsyth St. for the off-premise sale of beer and wine.
• Approved license for Saurin Jayantibhai Patel of SA Express Mart LLC, 1516 S. Lee St., for the off-premise sale of beer and wine.
• Approved purchase of 375 gallons of natural gas odorant at a cost of $25 per gallon from GPM of Pelham, Ala.
• Adopted a resolution appointing the finance director as the city’s designee to request and receive sales and use tax filer reports. The resolution will allow the finance director to retrieve the necessary information once a year for a fee of $50.
• Approved the reappointment of Chris Usrey to the Americus-Sumter County Airport Authority.
• Approved the reappointment of Lou Chase to the Americus-Sumter County Airport Authority.
In the consent agenda, the city took the following action:
• Approved the purchase of equipment through a grant award from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security. Americus Fire Chief Roger Bivins said the cost is approximately $43,000, and is fully reimbursable.
• Approved advertising for an RFP to add grease traps and dumpster enclosures across from the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building, for a cost of about $50,000 to come from 2014 SPLOST revenues.
• Approved a list of surplus property to be sold on GovDeal by Larry Riner, public works director.
• Approved expenses related to emergency repair of a water and sewer line on Winn Street. Riner said a power pole had fallen into a hole and “everything caved in, wrecking the water main.”
• Approved an invoice from Palmer and Hilliard in the amount of $92,420 for sidewalks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Davenport Street to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center. The city has a grant in the amount of $110,000 for this purpose.
At the beginning of the meeting, a citizen had requested and been granted permission to address mayor and council. Martha Barnum, who has lived on East Jefferson Street for 20 years, she said, was extremely upset because she had “half a foot of raw sewerage” in her house last Sunday morning. She said she called her city council member, Juanita Wilson, and the mayor and then called 911. She said after about an hour a work crew came out and looked and said they would be back Monday morning. Barnum and Chris Wooden, who was the head of the crew, disagreed about what was said on Sunday. Wooden said the workers had discovered that the sewer line from Barnum’s house to the main sewer line had been improperly plumbed by whoever Barnum contracted with. She said she had the same problem about two years ago and city workers had told her it was the city’s problem, not hers. She said they never returned to fix it.
Barnum referred to the city’s inaction as “willful neglect and disrespect” for her community. She was also upset that no one offered to help her clean her house of the sewerage on Sunday. She said she would be “getting with the city about being reimbursed for the agony I went through.”
Barnum was not satisfied. “So this is how the city handles the horror and agony that taxpayers go through?” she asked.