POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to move forward on an effort to possibly refinance outstanding debt to save more than $900,000.

The supervisors voted at their meeting on Monday, Sept. 23 to authorize Davenport & Company LLC, its investment firm, to seek refinancing for water and sewer bonds.

Griffin Moore, vice president with Davenport, gave a presentation to the board at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 18 about refinancing up to three bonds, depending on if all of them meet the minimum savings threshold.

Since 2010, Davenport has served as financial advisor to the county on six transactions in which the county has refinanced debt for interest rate savings, resulting in total savings of about $8.5 million.

Interest rates have remained near historically low levels in recent years despite recent volatility, Moore said. Refinancing the debt would take advantage of those rates without extending the maturity of the bonds.

During his presentation, Moore talked about refinancing two 2011 Virginia Resources Authority (VRA) bonds worth a combined $7.9 million. This would bring an estimated savings of $928,741 over the life of the debt, he said. The debt would not be extended past its current payoff date of 2034.

Moore’s presentation handout also included information on a 2014 revenue bond worth almost $4 million, but whether it will move forward to be refinanced is unknown as it isn’t definite a refinancing would achieve a minimum savings of 3 percent net present value. If the county could realize that level of savings or higher, Davenport wouldn’t proceed with the transaction, and there would be no cost to the county for their effort.

The board authorized Davenport to participate in the Fall 2019 VRA Pool in order to refinance the bonds. If they can achieve a favorable enough rate, the refinancing would likely be complete by mid November.

Other business handled at the meeting included:

* Charla Schubert, director of finance, presented the board with the pre-audit financials for the fiscal year that ended June 30. She said the county ended the year well and increased the fund balance by more than $1 million over fiscal year (FY) 2018.

The county ended the fiscal year with a fund balance of $16,747,647, which represents 20.2 percent of FY 2019 operating revenues less transfers. The board’s policy is to have a minimum 15 percent fund balance. Schubert credited the good year in part to revenues exceeding the county’s budget in the areas of delinquent personal property and real estate taxes, new construction, and building permits. The departments also did a good job of reviewing their budgets each month and “exercising conservative spending.”

Schubert pointed out the school division ended the year with $340,530, which will go to its capital maintenance reserve fund. She also commended Audra Morris, CSA coordinator, for making sure local children are in community-based services as much as possible, which has a lower local match. She was able to come under budget in the local share by $117,000.

“All of these efforts put the county where we are today, and I like to make sure I mention that because it is a group effort,” Schubert said.

The board often uses a portion of the excess fund balance above 15 percent to fund one-time capital needs that have been put off. Some of the recommended carry forwards include roof replacements and HVAC improvements for public works; Skaggs Road office asbestos remediation; access control for county facilities; security enhancements; Fighting Creek Park land expansion; a utilities master plan; wastewater treatment plan security upgrades, and the purchase of a heavy rescue vehicle. These projects total $789,000.

Taylor Goodman with Company 2 asked the board to go ahead and commit that night to purchasing a used heavy rescue vehicle for $183,000. A new vehicle can cost up to $815,000, so fire and rescue was thrilled to find this vehicle, which would meet the county’s needs with some additional upgrades (an estimated $60,000 to $80,000). He said it is a 2009 model with impeccable service records. The board voted unanimously to approve that purchase.

Bill Melton, District 4, also suggested the board consider setting aside a portion of the excess monies to be put in a fund designated for broadband.

* The board unanimously adopted its fiscal year (FY) 2020 Legislative agenda. The legislative agenda of both the board of supervisors and the school board was discussed at length at the joint meeting on Sept. 18. Also present hearing the two boards’ concerns were Del. Lee Ware, R-65, and Sen. Glen Sturtevant Jr., R-10.

The legislative agenda for the board of supervisors included the top priority of help with getting better broadband coverage in the county. Other topics included more flexibility with proffers; help with getting Beaumont Juvenile Correction Facility declared surplus and ownership transferred to the county; issues related to Green Ridge Landfill’s impact on Powhatan County, and reimbursement for local share of the department of social services.

Sharon Rochelle, director of Powhatan’s DSS, had spoken to the boards and representatives on Sept. 18 about how halfway through the fiscal year in January, the state discontinued and the local share of DSS funding disappeared and the local share had to increase to make up the difference. The local DSS must then request "pass through" money from the state, which is actually federal dollars not state dollars.

During that meeting, the schools also presented a legislative agenda that included equity of opportunity for all Virginia learners; appropriating state resources to help with teacher shortages; providing more funding to implement methods of preventing and addressing misbehaviors that lead to suspension and expulsion; increasing funding for counseling and behavioral assistance and school resource officers for the purpose of school safety, and continuing to support the progress the State Board of Elections has made in modernizing the Virginia SOLs.

* The board unanimously agreed to seek the services of Christopher Ali, a University of Virginia professor, to speak with them about broadband and possible steps forward. The board was willing to consider two of Ali’s suggestions – a two-hour sit down with the board discussing the state of broadband in general estimated ($600) or a formal presentation to the board specific to Powhatan’s needs ($1,500).

After a bit of discussion, the board authorized county administrator Ted Voorhees to work with Ali at setting up a meeting costing up to $1,500 as long as it included an in-depth discussion with the supervisors and a chance for them to ask questions.

* The board voted unanimously to amend the county code to prohibit cul-de-sac streets from having street names that duplicate the name of an intersecting street. The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce confusion among emergency responders and other service providers.

The county code generally prohibits the duplication of street names, except that cul-de-sac streets may have the same name (but different street type designation) as the street they intersect, according to board documents. For example, within the Walnut Creek subdivision (western Powhatan County), Walnut Tree Drive intersects with cul-de-sac streets named Walnut Tree Court, Walnut Tree Place, Walnut Tree Road, and Walnut Tree Terrace.

During a public hearing, local developer Woody Cofer spoke against the ordinance, saying he has to compete with much larger localities and it is too hard to find street names.

When asked to weigh in, Phil Warner, fire and rescue chief, agreed that GPS would differentiate between the different streets, but when there is no cellular connectivity, searching for the right street could be a problem.

“This is an example that comes up in Powhatan County only a handful of times a year, but when we have a CPR call or structure fire call and seconds count, we don’t want to have that confusion,” he said. “I fully support staying away from courts, ways with the same names because it is super confusing. To new people on the street it is very confusing. I would want to continue to find new names and move in that direction.”

* The board unanimously voted to amend the county code to update sections with the corresponding sections in the Virginia Statewide Fire Preventions Code regarding certain cited references and smoke detectors. Fire marshal David Throckmorton said the major revisions are just numbers changes.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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