By Kathi Bliss
As Caldwell County officials proceed to hatch grand plans about the renovation of the “old WalMart building” into a new judicial center, the same question continues ringing on the lips of taxpayers across the county.
“How are we going to pay for it?”
According to figures provided by County Administrator Ron Heggemeier last week, it appears that Caldwell County will borrow the money for the sweeping renovation that will unite all the functions of the Caldwell County justice system under one roof.
Heggemeier confirmed on Friday that the Commissioners voted on Monday to take $1 million out of their “reserve fund” to pay for the renovation, and will issue a tax note in the amount of approximately $4.5 million to fund the rest.
Heggemeier said he had encouraged court members to borrow a smaller amount, around $3.5 million, and to take additional funds from the county’s currently-bloated reserve. However, some Commissioners are resistant to spending money in the reserves outside of an emergency situation.
In addition to the operating capital required by the county’s finance policy to have on hand (three and a half months’ worth of fund balance), Caldwell County has a rapidly-growing “reserve balance,” much of which Heggemeier suggested be invested in the construction.
The fund balance has grown exponentially since 2002, according to figures Heggemeier provided last week, from $1.8 million in 2002 to $6.1 million now.
The county’s “three-and-a-half-month” policy demands $4.78 million in reserves.
Some in the community have called the reserve a “savings account,” and have challenged the Commissioners to either spend the money filling the county’s needs, or to arrange for a tax decrease.
That, Heggemeier said, was what he was trying to encourage the Commissioners to do, by decreasing their “funds-on-hand” requirement to two and a half months, the Commissioners could have made available $2 million to put toward the construction project, rather than taking on the additional debt. The difference could be made up, he said, by the sale of the Caldwell County properties that will be vacated after the Judicial Center is occupied, as well as other revenues that he projects to be higher than they were estimated in the budget.
Some Commissioners balked, however, and have dug in their heels on keeping the money in reserves for emergency situations.
As a result, the County has opted to advertise for 2013 series of Tax Notes in the amount of $4.5 million. He said the call would go out this week, and that bids were expected by mid-May. He expects the tax notes to be funded by mid-June, when work will begin on the project.
The renovation is expected to take around 11 months to complete.
This debt will add to the $4 million in short-term tax notes issued last April, which were used in part for the purchase of the building, and bring the County’s total outstanding debt upwards of $17 million.
This is the only new debt Caldwell County has added, according to County Auditor Larry Roberson, since County Judge Tom Bonn took office in 2011.
After the cancellation of a special-called meeting slated this week, the next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners Court will be on Monday, May 13, 2013, at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Center of the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack Street in Lockhart. The Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month. Interested residents and stakeholders are encouraged to attend.