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Deadline looms for low-interest bond money for job-creating projects

December 28, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Private investors interested in taking advantage of $18.4 million in low-interest bond money available for job-creating development projects in Berkeley County have until Wednesday afternoon to submit proposals.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the first meeting of a four-member committee formed to review the private-sector proposals for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) bond program is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The committee members are Tina Combs, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Martinsburg and Berkeley County; Jim Welton, financial consultant for Berkeley County Schools; Stephen Christian, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority; and Carol A. Crabtree, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9).

The committee's recommendations will be presented to the Berkeley County Commission, which must make a decision by the end of January because of deadlines imposed by state lawmakers in November, Hammond said.

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After consulting with legal counsel Norwood Bentley III, Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Monday that the committee's meeting would be closed to the public, but its recommendations would be presented to the commission and all of the proposals would be available for review.

The committee was formed to impartially advise the commission on the proposals and remove "any hint" of political influence on the process, Stubblefield said.

Hammond said last week that the county had received "a lot of interest," but had not received any proposals as of Dec. 23.

The developers of The Commons shopping plaza contacted the county and indicated there was "one (proposal) on the way," Hammond said.

Proposals submitted are expected to include three to five years of financial data to support repayment of bonds, a business plan that shows revenue stream to support bond repayment, number of permanent jobs created, average salary of workers, risk of potential job loss, construction jobs, quality of life and environmental impact, anticipated investment and tax revenue for the county, and how quickly the project would be under construction, among other criteria.

Stubblefield said the fate of proposals for the $12.3 million in federal stimulus bond money available for public projects must be decided by the end of February.

If all of the stimulus bonds that are available to Berkeley County are issued, the county commission would have to budget about $720,000 annually to pay off the bonds in 30 years, according to figures obtained by the commission.

Given the lack of unanimous support by all three commissioners, Stubblefield said he is exploring alternatives to financing the construction of an emergency operations center, which include badly needed space for the sheriff's department and 911 central dispatch headquarters.

The county qualified for the bond money because of employment declines in 2008 that were factored into the ARRA legislation.

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