Supervisors vote to issue bonds for middle school

Pulaski County Middle School took another step toward becoming a reality Monday night when the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of general obligation bonds to finance the project.

With an eye on potential changes in interest rates, the county’s financial advisor, Davenport & Co. recommended the supervisors move forward with a stand-alone general obligation bond issue, and not take the risk of waiting to sell Virginia Public School Authority bonds on May 1.

Davenport’s representative Monday night said the Federal Reserve is expected to change interest rates three more times in 2018.  And, even though rates could go down when the Reserve meets again in February, Davenport advised the county to go with a stand-alone bond sale the week of Feb. 5 – prior to the Reserve’s meeting – and close the bond sale by early March.

Bonds will be sold to provide the $47 million project cost, and will be amortized over 20 years, with the first debt service payment affecting the county’s 2019 budget.

Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready said the county’s tax rate will be raised this spring. Real estate tax payments, due June 5 and Dec. 5, will provide the revenue to pay the first debt service payment.

The supervisors unanimously approved the resolution moving the bond sale forward as recommended.

On another school related matter, the board approved a resolution on a 4-1 vote supporting state legislation that would grant counties the authority to order a local vote on whether to impose a county tax on tobacco.

The county for some time has sought the state’s blessing to levy a tax on tobacco, with revenues raised going to help pay for school capital improvement needs.

Two earlier attempts in the General Assembly failed and, already in this session, a Senate bill seeking tobacco tax authority has been tabled in the Senate Finance Committee until next year.

A measure in the House of Delegates, however, is still alive.

This time, the legislation merely asks the legislature to give counties the authority to hold a local referendum on the issue.

Currently, only towns and cities have the authority to tax tobacco, along with only two counties in Northern Virginia – Arlington and Fairfax.

In the past, legislators have been reluctant to give counties the authority to levy a tobacco tax out of fear they would be blamed in part for passing a tax increase.

“So, people in Radford have a revenue stream from tobacco taxes for their schools that Pulaski County doesn’t have,” stated Cloyd District Supervisor Joe Guthrie.

Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready also noted that some counties in the southern suburbs of Northern Virginia are having problems with organized crime and the trafficking of cigarettes to the Northeast.

“One supervisor up there told me there had even been a couple murders related to cigarette trafficking,” said McCready.

Guthrie said Virginia’s relatively low taxation on cigarettes prompts traffickers to drive not too far away up to Northeastern states and sale cigarettes on the black market for less than the retail value there.

Only Robinson District Supervisor Charles Bopp voted against the resolution of support.

“I don’t support anything concerning a tobacco tax,” Bopp said emphatically.

Also Monday, supervisors voted unanimously to approve a resolution of support for creation of a Small and Rural Schools Coalition to better advocate for students on school issues.

Also, supervisors approved a change on the Future Land Use Map in the county’s Comprehensive Plan for the property along Route 11 where Pulaski County Middle School will be built.

Currently, the land is identified on the map as commercial, however, school properties must be listed as public. Supervisors approved the change.