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County looks to save $1 million through refinancing

Originally published: Jan. 17, 2013
Last modified: Jan. 17, 2013

Adam Orr

The taxpayers of Ashe County could save nearly $1 million during the next 14 years if the Ashe County Board of Commissioners authorizes a plan to refinance county debt proposed by County Finance Director Sandy Long, according to Long and Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell. 

The county’s current long-term debt obligations include the Ashe County Library, Westwood Elementary School, Ashe County High School and the Ashe County Law Enforcement Center, which will not be completely paid for until 2027.

“One goal Sandy and I had, that I’m assuming (commissioners) would agree to ... we don’t want to extend out our payments,” said Mitchell. “We want (payments) to roll off at the appropriate time.” 

Mitchell said Long had spoken with representatives from PNC Financial that currently holds the debt on the justice center. 

“We could refinance those three loans, have the debt rolled off as it is scheduled to right now, and because of the refinancing, it would save approximately $1.1 million,” said Mitchell. 

Depending upon how the “backloaded,” payment structure is designed, Long said the county could save between $1.035 million and $1.087 million through the agreement. 

“That’s savings that would occur mostly on the backend of that justice center loan,” said Long. “So, there would be no immediate savings going into the next budget year. The savings would be well on down the road.”

Commissioners took no action on the refinancing on Jan. 7, although Mitchell was given the go-ahead to begin planning the refinancing in greater detail. 

The work-session was the most recent in a series of conversations by commissioners and community stakeholders about the county’s long-term infrastructure needs and spending options. 

On Aug. 6, commissioners met with the Ashe County Board of Education to outline Ashe County Schools capital planning needs over the coming decade, including discussing a potential new middle school. 

A second session followed on Oct. 1, 2012, as commissioners discussed capital planning needs over the next decade. 

“We’ve had conversations over the past year about the next five, eight, to 10 years,” said Mitchell on Oct. 1. “We’re looking at our infrastructure responsibilities over that timeframe.”

With the aid of a powerpoint presentation, commissioners were shown what the current Ashe County government complex would look like with the addition of a new Department of Social Services building, a new county health department and, potentially, a new board of education building. 

The possibility of further courtroom expansion was also discussed. 

On May 15, 2012 Watauga-based architect Larry Greene presented the findings of his six-month feasibility study to determine whether the current middle school structure in Warrensville could be renovated. Ultimately, Greene did not recommend renovating the current facility, and estimated a new school would cost between $17.5 million and $24 million. 

Proposed new Rescue Squad 

Commissioners were also briefed on a potential new contract between the county and the Ashe County Rescue Squad by Ashe County Rescue Squad Captain Ricky Roark and Ashe County Rescue Squad Training Officer Robert Poe.  

The all-volunteer service organization, which has served the citizens of Ashe County since 1962, is asking the county to consider an updated contract for the first time since 1997. 

According to Poe, more than half the rescue squad is trained to nationally recognized standards for rescue that were initiated in the 1990s by the NC Office of the State Fire Marshal. The training includes more than 100 hours, covering personal protective equipment, vehicle stabilization and extrication, rope rigging, and water rescue, recovery and search. 

“Other courses were developed including vehicle rescue, an high angle rope techniques, water rescue, trench rescue, structural collapse, as well as agricultural rescue, wilderness search and cell tower rescue,” said Poe. 

“When a department applies for membership, it must have at least eight Emergency Rescue Technicians, and the appropriate equipment for the level of rescue that they want to perform at,” read information presented by the Rescue Squad at Monday’s meeting. 

Commissioners also asked the rescue squad representatives if they had found a suitable location at which to place a rescue squad substation.

“We’re still looking,” said Poe. “We’ve got the equipment now, and we’re looking. 

We’d like to find something out in the county, but some is cost prohibitive, and others aren’t really suitable but we do have one place that we’re looking at that would be valuable to us.” 

A suitable site to house a crash truck on 221S would also be valuable to the rescue squad, according to Poe. 

“I think that’s going to be a needed area in the future with the road construction,” said Poe. “Once they get that done, I think (rescue equipment) will be really needed (in that area). But we are still looking.” 

On Nov. 14, Ashe County Rescue Squad Captain Ricky Roark issued an apology to Fleetwood area business owner Steve Halsey, “for any kind of miscommunication. We’re trying to help people, not hurt them.” 

Roark’s apology came one week after a meeting between Ashe County government, the Fleetwood Fire Department, and Halsey to sort our confusion over a land transfer the county had proposed to Halsey. 

After spending more than $15,000 to install a below-ground water tank on land adjacent to property owned by Halsey, the department was told by county officials that the North Carolina Department of Transportation held the piece of property for use in the future widening of 221.

The news came after the department signed the lease with the county in July 2011 that would allow them to use the property through 2099. 

Commission meeting minutes indicate that there was discussion by commissioners and Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill on Sept. 6, 2011, “that the Ashe County Rescue Squad had requested to build several bays on a lot at the Old Fields Voting House property.”

The minutes said the, “bays would be used for truck storage only. There would be no need for water and sewage services.” 

Roark said the rescue squad had indeed looked at the area near Halsey’s property, but ultimately decided the property was too small for the rescue squad’s use.

A decision on the contract was ultimately pushed until the commissioners Feb. 4, session. 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.