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PE Talks Rt. 628 Alternate

PRINCE EDWARD-County supervisors will look to bonds to finance some long-term debt.

While the board had little problem with refinancing the courthouse and long-term financing for the cost of a water study and utilities previously purchased from the Town at their October 11 meeting, the issue of an alternate Route 628 prompted some discussion.

Specifically, the board agreed to borrow funds at a savings and to refund two general obligation bonds used to finance the courthouse construction in 1998. Supervisors approved a resolution that authorizes an amount not to exceed $3.315 million to refund the bonds in full (though that figure is projected at $3,170,990). Rates won't be locked in until November 2, Financial Consultant Jimmy Sanderson, of Davenport, reported that currently the savings are in the 11 percent range and that the total savings over the life of the life of the issue would be approximately $1 million. The final maturity date is December 31, 2031.

That financing was unanimously approved.

The second, a lease revenue bond which was approved on a 6-2 vote, relates to refunding of an existing lease revenue associated with the courthouse (about $1.17 million), refinancing of two lines of credit (notes that come due November 30) and total $4.6 million, and the most controversial piece, approximately $1.4 million for the Route 628 project.

The complicated resolution essentially means that the County will lease the courthouse to the VRA (Virginia Resource Authority) and they lease it back to the County. The payment the County makes is equal to the debt service owed on the bonds.

The total amount would not exceed $7.8 million with a true interest cost not exceed 5.25 percent.

The original cost estimate for the Alternate Route 628 project-that could provide a separate access point on Route 15 and reconnecting at some point beyond the school complex-was about $2.1 million. However, County Administrator Wade Bartlett cited that they contacted the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and they would agree to transferring an existing revenue sharing project of $575,000 onto the Route 628 project and that they could reduce an option to move excess dirt from the road project to a site behind Lowe's.

While the County-which has long eyed the alternate route- could choose to build the road on its own, it is also looking to the developer of the planned Granite Falls Inn project (which would be accessed by the new road) to chip in through tax increment financing should that project become a reality. The original concept is that the developer would chip in up to 55 percent of the cost.

The resolution factoring the $1.4 million for the road was approved with supervisors Howard “Pete” Campbell and Jim Wilck opposing.

Board Discussion

While ultimately the funds for the road project were included in the bond resolution, it was noted in board discussion that the funds wouldn't necessarily have to go to the road construction. They could instead be used for another governmental purpose.

“Clearly, the expectation if you were to move forward with this right now would be that you were gonna move forward with the road improvement. But that doesn't preclude you at a later date to determine otherwise,” Sanderson said.

Farmville District (801) Supervisor Mattie Wiley also sought clarification that the County would not be in a position where they would have to raise taxes. Bartlett explained that the debt service would increase next year by about $200,000.

“Based on our existing cash and fund balances and what we have seen in the tax tickets that will go out, we would not need an increase to cover that increase in debt service,” Bartlett said.

Essentially, he explained, there would be an increase in debt service of about $200,000 for two years, and about what it is now and decreasing considerably thereafter.

Bartlett also cited that if they follow their normal collections this year, they would receive $600,000 more than budgeted mainly through personal property taxes for vehicles. The projection at budget time was that used car values were going to fall about ten percent; that didn't happen. Used cars values, Bartlett said, stayed fairly level.

And, while the hotel and conference center still hasn't broken ground, funding could still come from the developer.

“We have an economic development agreement that always envisioned tax increment financing for the road and that would continue but instead of using that additional tax to go out and get a bond, that additional tax would just be kept by the County,” Bartlett explained.

Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones noted that they have talked about Route 628 before Granite Falls was even envisioned, that they have been talking about the traffic problem at the high school ever since he has been on the board.

“The extension on Dominion Drive, no one who is taking their children to school will use that,” commented Wilck. “In other words, if you're trying to get to the school, you have to use 628. Now, what it may do is, if there's some other people that are going through there not to the school, they may use the other road. But if you're trying to get…your children to school, which is the problem, and I have no disagreement that's a bad intersection there…but it will not actually improve the safety of the children there one iota because you're still gonna have to drive 628 if you want to get your children to school.”

Ms. Wiley disagreed, noting that the traffic coming from parents and coming onto Route 628 off of Route 630, if it is rerouted, it would not be coming on Route 628. Ms. Wiley offered that there have been plenty of accidents out there on Rt. 628 in front of the school. She offered that it is not safe for her child or anyone elses.

“Sometimes I have had to cross that street because I've worked out there at the public school, and I've actually had to run after getting midway of the road because that traffic comes through there so fast,” Ms. Wiley said.

She added that she sees a need for the road whether the hotel comes or not.

Wilck offered that it may be an emotional thing with Ms. Wiley, he cited that the Department of Motor Vehicles keeps a record of accidents that have occurred. He cited a list of accidents of the last 20 years that they've supplied him with and told Ms. Wiley that they “just totally disagree with you.”

Ms. Wiley countered that they do not record every accident that happens out there, noting that an officer was not called and that they solved it among themselves,

Prospect Supervisor Howard “Pete” Campbell suggested a study, assessing that a turning lane would help. He noted a lot of traffic gets backed out on Rt. 15.

Some Public Comment

While there was no public hearing on the financing packages, several county residents used the public participation portion of the board's meeting to express opposition to the road project and questioned the need.

“The economic climate is not conducive to a county such as ours to be spending large amounts off money on any new project. This bypass of Route 628…has no needful basis,” offered Richard Altice.

Jack Houghton offered that a “good deal” of public money has been expended in support of the hotel project. Following a detailed presentation (that included possible school projects), he urged the board to shelve the alternate Route 628 project and that if the board is going to borrow money to “please let us borrow money that addresses real needs of the day that serve the citizens of Prince Edward County.”

Prince Edward Rescue Squad President Bill Hogan assessed, “If you take a 200-yard section from the bridge as you leave Farmville to the entrance to Lowe's and down, since 1993 when I came back here, there have been more wrecks there than any place in Prince Edward County of that size combined…”

He would also offer that it's not just school hours the accidents happen, but rather they happen 24 hours a day.

Hogan noted that in the last five years they had one fatality there, an 18-year-old. He offered he couldn't speak to safety around the school and noted that they don't have many accidents right there at the school.

Wilck, citing he had a spreadsheet from DMV, noted that as far as actual accidents on Route 628 (going back 20 years) that there has been one pedestrian accident, two deer hit and that the majority of the accidents have been low speed rear end collisions.

Another speaker noted that she lives on Route 630 and drives by the school all the time. She offered that it is a nuisance when students are all crossing the road, “kind of meandering across,” but suggested it could be fixed with a crossing guard.

“But as far as the new road, I'm not in favor of that,” she said. “I drive that road all the time and it's only the couple of times during the day when there is any congestion…”

She also commented, “…The main thing that I'm concerned about is…the taxes that we would have to pay to build something that's just really not needed.”

VDOT Resident Administrator Kevin Wright, who was in attendance and on the agenda, would later in the meeting comment that if the Route 15 and 628 intersection, if it were designed today, would not be designed that way. The possible project has been listed on a deficiency list as needing turning lane extensions, which is not expected to be a huge expense, though Wright did not offer a ballpark figure.