Highlights of the 9/15/2014 meeting
Board Member Mike Buckel introduced the topic “Worrisome History of School Construction Programs in our Area”, which he and Treasurer Ritch Vandeventer presented. The study reviewed historical data dating from 1999 for 5 school districts of Elbert, Franklin, Hart, and Stephens Counties and Jefferson City in Jackson County. Only verifiable facts were included in the study, which revealed the risks and unexpected problems that arise with very complex, large construction projects. Some of the highlights included:
• In Stephens County, E-Splost and Bonds were issued in 2008 and 2009. Construction delays, decreases in estimated sales tax collections, and monthly debt service costs of $250,000 which consumed much of the decreased sales tax collections, resulted in debt that will not be retired until 2017 – 5 years after occupancy.
• In Jefferson City’s current 2012-2017 E-Splost, early cost overruns forced the school system to prioritize their projects and utilize value engineering analysis to reduce costs.
• In Franklin County, a 3-phase project in 1999 encountered unexpected construction problems, resulting in cost over-runs and delayed completion dates which impacted the entire year’s school schedule.
• In 2011 Elbert County prioritized and costed 6 projects, using value engineering and authorizing debt of only 55% of expected revenue. Although a significant decrease in collections occurred, they adjusted the projects to the revenue collections, and the debt is expected to be paid off during the Splost term.
• Hart County has a history of large debt and substantial cost overruns from E-Splost 1, 2, and 3. 92% of Splost 3 revenue went to service debt. At the end of the current Splost 3, the county will be debt free. Mike & Ritch found Hart County spending data to be elusive and records sketchy, with Splost 2 data the most difficult to trace. In contrast to Elbert County’s successful projects and on-time retirement of debt, Hart County’s projects are poorly or not defined, prioritized, designed, or budgeted; their revenue projections are optimistic; and projected debt is 2/3 of projected E-Splost revenue.
In summary, the study demonstrates the need for Hart County to be flexible in their planning, to prioritize their projects, to be conservative on revenue estimates, and to provide accurate information for voters.
Following the presentation, Mike took questions from the attendees, covering such topics as the absence of anything in the proposed E-Splost focused on increasing academic performance, the absence of site analysis information for the proposed construction projects, and the overall lack of planning exhibited. In response to a question on HCPOA’s strategy to address the deficiencies in E-Splost planning, Mike replied that HCPOA’s goal is to delay passage in 2014, giving the county another year to complete the pre-planning necessary to define projects and present valid cost estimates. A summary of the current E-Splost deficiencies and HCPOA recommendations was at the front desk.
President Garry Hamilton thanked Mike and Ritch for the informative presentation and added that all published information regarding the proposed E-Splost 4 have omitted any mention of a Section 7, which automatically obligates property owners through millage increases for any unpaid balance of principal and interest on any existing bonds.