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Extension service moving next door

July 2, 2012
By TOM GIAMBRONI - Staff Writer ( , Morning Journal News

LISBON - The local office of the Cooperative Extension Service is being relocated to the new Columbiana County Government Services Building to help pay off the project's debt.

County Auditor Nancy Milliken said that adding the CES as a rent-paying tenant will provide enough extra money to ensure commissioners have sufficient revenue left in the county's general debt service account to make the construction bond payments on the new government services building.

Milliken's comments came following a meeting last week with commissioners to update them on efforts to put in place a financial package to pay for the construction of the building, which opened in April.

The 76,000-square-foot, two-story building houses the county Department of Job and Family Services, the Board of Elections, One-Stop agency (county unemployment agency) and the Veterans Services Commission.

Rent from the JFS and One-Stop, plus the money commissioners were saving from no longer have to rent space for Veterans Services, was supposed to cover about 80 percent of the annual bond construction payments. The elections board does not pay rent since it is a county agency.

The remaining 20 percent was to be paid with money from the county's general debt service account, which comes from 0.2-mills in property taxes commissioners are allowed by law to collect. The debt service money is used to fund debt payments on construction projects.

The debt service account generates about $300,000 per year, according to Chief Deputy County Auditor John Goempel, and $160,000 of that is currently obligated to meet existing debt payments, leaving $140,000 to cover any new construction debts.

"Anything beyond that we would be in trouble," he said.

County officials determined late last year the county would have difficulty affording its share of the debt because of the way the financing package was structured. The two construction bonds obtained to provide the up-front money to start the project were front-loaded and for shorter terms, which required higher bond repayments over the first 12 years.

Goempel said this required a higher share of money from debt service account beyond the $140,000 that remained uncommitted. "This would have killed us because the general obligation debt was going to require we put up more than we cold afford," he said.

Since the One-Stop did not need as much room as originally anticipated and was paying a flat fee no matter how much space it rented, the agency agreed to give up 2,500 square feet of space at the new building. This space will now be rented to the CES and the 4-H program, which are currently located the next driveway over on Lincole Place.

Goempel said with the additional rental income from the CES/4-H and some other changes, commissioners will only have to take about $102,000 a year from the debt service account.

Commissioners must still issue a third construction bond to complete the financial package, and the final terms of the bond sale will determine how much is needed exactly to be taken from the debt service account to make the bond payments. The third bond will be for 40 years and likely be issued by the end of August.

The project's total cost is $10.5 million - $9.6 million for construction/design and $1.9 million for financing fees.

Auditor Milliken hired Greg Ewing in January to serve as county bond counsel and assist her office in coming up with a workable plan. Ewing, who has worked in public finance for banks and investment firms, is being paid $20 an hour.



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