County OKs $39 million borrowing plan

September 17, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County will get a new prison, a new radio communications system and more money to preserve prime farmland after the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday approved an ordinance to incur $39 million in new debt.

"We got a better rate than we ever thought we'd get," Board Chairman G. Warren Elliott said of the 4.17 percent interest rate on the 20-year bonds. By delaying passage of the ordinance by a few weeks, Elliott said the county will save $525,000 over the life of the bond issue.

"We made an educated calculation to delay ... and it paid off," Elliott said. In late August, Pennsylvania school districts were scrambling to beat a Sept. 3 deadline to borrow money for capital improvement projects before the state's new tax reform law went into effect.


"About two weeks ago, the rates were artificially high because a lot of the school districts were in the bond market," County Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner said.

Elliott said the bonds will be sold Oct. 19, pending approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The $39 million bond issue will mean about a 2.7 mill increase in county real estate taxes to pay off the debt, according to Beckner. On a property with a market value of $100,000, that would mean an additional $39.15 a year in real estate taxes, Elliott said last month.

The lion's share of the money, $30 million, will be spent on a new prison to replace the two-building complex that is now at almost twice its designed capacity of about 200 inmates. Another $5 million is for farmland preservation and $4 million is to replace the county's aging radio communications system.

"We've been in conceptual design for a while," said Warden John Wetzel, who was at a prison design meeting Thursday. The new prison would have bed space for more than 400 inmates, he said.

"We're looking at late fall of 2006 if everything breaks right," he said of the projected opening date for the new jail. The new prison would have a footprint of more than 100,000 square feet and be built on county-owned property, although a site has not been announced, Wetzel said.

County Senior Planner Sherri Clayton said $5 million in farmland preservation funding should be able to leverage an additional $8.5 million in state funding to buy development easements. That should be enough money to preserve 6,500 acres of land over the next five years, she said.

Since the preservation program began in 1990, Clayton said the county has bought easements on 52 farms totaling 7,205 acres. Another six farms with 1,300 acres are being processed for preservation and 102 farms comprising 13,000 acres have applied for the program, she said.

"We're going to replace the public safety radio infrastructure," said Jerry Flasher, director of emergency services for the county. That includes the municipal, police, fire, ambulance and emergency management communications.

Flasher said the system will be UHF with simulcast repeaters at various tower sites around the county, replacing a hodgepodge with technologies that date to the 1960s.

"We're going to start here in the next two weeks to get serious about frequencies and tower sites," said Flasher, who met this week with design and engineering consultants and representatives of the county's Council of Governments and Emergency Services Alliance.

The new radio system will be in place in about two years, according to Flasher.

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