Board members unsure how to fund Building C project
Morgan County School Board members had differing views and concerns about how to fund the Berkeley Springs High School Building C (gymnasium) project during their May 14 workshop.
No decisions were made about funding that evening.
In addition to the current board, newly elected members John Rowland and Pat Springer were also present. They will replace Larry Omps and Laura Smith on July 1.
Omps expressed concerns about a bond election. He thought it was better to show where the board was saving money toward the gymnasium project and to look at raising the special levy rate to 100% for a year or two.
If they increased the special levy rate to 100% rate, they could increase revenue by around $359,000 annually. That amount could be less if property assessments continued to decrease.
People are struggling
Rowland said he had spoken to a lot of people while campaigning. He didn’t feel a bond issue would pass. People are struggling. The last time a bond passed was in 1975 and it took two or three times for it to be approved, he said.
People also weren’t happy about the special levy rate going up, he said. The last time the special levy passed, it was at 57%, which he noted was a slimmer margin that usual.
Omps asked about the availability of the retiree health benefits liability money.
White said this was $413,000 of unencumbered funds. The Legislature is still figuring out how the money would be handled. She thought it could be available in their general expense fund next year.
Omps said knowing that they were going to have that money would have made a big difference in the decision to raise the special levy.
Board member Eric Kidwell said that if they were strapped financially, he didn’t want to risk $70,000 to $75,000 on bond counsel, financial advisor and other bond costs.
White said there would only be the $2,500 ballot set-up costs if the public vote was taken during November’s General Election. The other costs wouldn’t occur unless voters passed the bond issue.
The board also discussed whether to place the bond question on the November ballot or hold a special election.
Board president Laura Smith asked what other major renovations lay ahead.
Vice President David Ambrose suggested looking at what each of the schools needed for the next two to five years and at a bond that also covered those projects. He felt it would create more incentive for people to support a bond issue.
Kidwell thought voters would see through an attempt to make them happy by adding other projects.
Going to 20 years to repay is a long time, Omps said. He saw the big question as: What is the school board going to do with the special levy?
Member Aaron Close was concerned about moving to a 100% special levy rate and wanted the voters to speak. He said they may be back to cutting personnel to find money.
Omps said that many years ago they had to cut back on personnel over what was allowed in the state’s school aid formula. The board may need to go there again.
People had a misconception that Charleston would bail the county out if there wasn’t enough money, which wasn’t the case, Omps said.
Board members discussed whether they could put off construction deadlines and still hold on to the money that’s been secured.
School Superintendent David Banks said they are sitting on $2.2 million in School Building Authority money that they had been trying to get for three years. He didn’t want to jeopardize the money by delays, but would see if a project timeline change is possible.
Banks thought they may be able to negotiate down the architect’s percentage, which would help their costs.