County debt is going to grow some more

Published 1:45 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2016

School improvements in northern IW won’t wait

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Isle of Wight County’s fiscal 2017 capital improvement plan calls for adding another $54 million in debt over the next five years — despite the county’s distinction of being in the top five most indebted counties in Virginia.

The CIP for the next five years lists $14 million for public safety, with most of that going toward a new E911 radio system. There is $32 million for a new northern county middle school, upgrades at Smithfield High School and fixing the septic system at Hardy Elementary. 

The CIP also calls for $7.6 million for a variety of transportation projects. Each of those areas is slated to be financed through general obligation bonds. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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In all, the 10-year CIP forecast calls for borrowing $109 million, with 77 percent of all projects to be paid for through bonds, 7 percent from the general fund, 15 percent from state and federal contributions and 1 percent from reserves.

Board Chairman Rex Alphin agrees the level of debt is a “red flag,” but points to the necessity of certain projects, such as $11 million for a new E911 radio system.

Alphin said that while the CIP is written for five to 10-year brackets of time, the Board considers it on an annual basis, and each year asks if the county wants to take on more debt.

To decrease the debt service, the county has restructured and refinanced its obligations, but at this point, it’s not known if any more savings can be made, Alphin said.

The real challenge is bringing in more business, especially to the intermodal park, he said.

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice agrees.

Grice presented an aggressive plan last week to step up economic development efforts — particularly in the intermodal park. Grice wants to capitalize on the county’s abundance of treated water and pair that with companies, particularly in California, that are big users of treated water.

The Board asked staff to research his plan and return next month.

Grice and Alphin are adamant that it’s not feasible to keep raising real estate and personal property taxes to cover expenses.

“We can’t keep layering on more taxes,” he said.

If the county doesn’t get serious about economic development then “we’re in trouble,” he said.  {/mprestriction}