By Kathi Bliss
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court decided on Monday morning to approve a short-term tax note to fund the purchase and renovation of the existing WalMart building at 1703 S. Colorado. The building, which will be purchased by the county after the retail giant opens their new location later this year, is intended to be converted into a judicial center which will house the Caldwell County District Courts, District and County Clerks, and District Attorney’s Office.
According to County Auditor Larry Roberson, the short-term tax note is different than a certificate of obligation or a voter-approved bond project in that the debt is carried for a maximum of seven years, which will leave the county with more options for financing should financial emergencies arise in the future.
The Court’s unanimous vote on Monday morning approved the debt, up to $4 million, which will cover the estimated $1.3 million purchase price of the facility, along with the massive renovations which will be required before the target offices are relocated.
Roberson said the new debt, which can and will be paid through a combination of tax revenues and other earnings, will be carried by The Independent Bankers Bank at a rate of 2.03 percent interest, resulting in an estimated interest cost of $437,668.
The benefit, he said, in addition to the low interest rate, is the fact that the note will be callable any time after April 1, 2013, and by that time, the County hopes to have sold properties and realized increased sales tax revenues, which can be applied to an early payoff of the note.
Roberson said the debt is structured such that taxpayers will see a one-cent increase in the county’s Interest and Sinking (debt repayment) arm of the tax rate, and that the debt will likely be paid prior to 2016, when repayment of other debts could feasibly cause the Interest and Sinking rate to jump considerably. Additionally, he said, a short-term note leaves more options available if the County should encounter a need to borrow funds later.
Currently, the county carries around $8.5 million in debt, he said. This latest note will bring that total debt to $12.5 million.
During the meeting, the Commissioners also voted to use the proceeds of the note to pay back some of the expenses Caldwell County has already incurred in connection with the project, including the escrow earnest money of $105,000, some legal fees, and the consulting fees recently allocated to Broaddus and Associates, of Austin, for their assistance in finding an architect for the renovation project.
Early stages of planning are already taking place on the project, with the hopes that it will be close to “shovel-ready” when the County closes on and takes possession of the property, an event which is expected to occur in connection with the projected opening of the new WalMart SuperCenter later this summer.
As the project moves forward, representatives of Broaddus and Associates will be meeting with department heads who are expected to be housed in the new judicial center to best determine the needs for the project, and county officials will be tasked with determining what to do with existing buildings, once they have been vacated and the offices relocated.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court discusses these and other issues during their regular meetings on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Training and Conference Room at the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St. (FM 20 E) in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.