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County to borrow for projects

March 26, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners plan to borrow up to $14 million to pay for construction projects in fiscal year 2006, drawing strong criticism from the vice president of the board.

The amount borrowed will be in addition to the approximately $21 million the county expects to collect in excise and transfer tax revenues.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, the only commissioner to oppose the borrowing plan, said by phone Wednesday that the amount was too high.

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"We're facing one of the largest tax increases in county history as far as capital projects (are concerned), but yet we're also increasing the borrowing," Wivell said. "I think we should be decreasing the borrowing."

The county's total debt is about $144 million, Wivell said.

Wivell appeared irritated when Commissioner John C. Munson said during a commissioners meeting on Tuesday that he supported borrowing the money.

Wivell criticized Munson for the decision, saying Munson has publicly stated for the last three years that he was against the county increasing its debt.

"And now you're willing to max out borrowing. That makes no sense whatsoever," Wivell said. "Either you're consistent or you're not ..."

Munson, during his campaign for commissioner and after he was elected, said he wanted to rid the county of debt.

He said by phone Tuesday night that he now agrees with borrowing the money because many of the county's roads are in bad shape and the commissioners should use the money to fix them.

"I did not flip-flop," Munson said. "My point is the people demand certain things, and that's one of them. Heck, no. I didn't flip-flop, I ain't that loose with money."

Munson said Wivell told him after the meeting that he was joking when he criticized Munson at the meeting. Wivell said he wasn't kidding.

"No, I wasn't joking," Wivell said. "We need to be accountable for our actions/records."

In fiscal year 2006, the county anticipates receiving $2 million in excise tax revenue from nonresidential development, $3 million from the transfer tax, $2 million from the roads portion of the excise tax, $9.3 million from the schools portion of the excise tax and $650,000 from excise tax revenue labeled "other," according to the county's proposed $59.6 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The CIP includes $15.8 million for the Board of Education's construction projects, $10.7 million for road improvement projects and $12.3 million for general government projects.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said Wednesday that borrowing the money now is a good financial move because interest rates are low. Borrowing less and delaying projects by years would be more costly because construction costs are increasing and interest rates might go up, he said.

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