Commissioners: funding for first ACC projects is “advance” not more money

CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: Both a news story in last week’s edition (particularly online) and an editorial in that edition referred to the county commissioners’ action from last week’s meeting as providing $2.4 million in “extra” money for the first two bond projects at Alamance Community College that were to be financed from the $39.6 million that voters approved for the community college in 2018.

That was the original request, from the college.

County manager Bryan Hagood told the commissioners that the motion included in their agenda packet would allow flexibility for the commissioners to decide in the future whether to add that money to the total amount of financing for ACC’s projects or whether to subtract it from the amounts available for future ACC bond-funded projects, the motion adopted by the commissioners explicitly made the money an “advance,” committing the county to staying within the $39.6 million total budget approved by voters.

In an interview with The Alamance News this week, board chairman John Paisley emphasized that the final action of the commissioners was to stick with the ceiling that voters approved, of $39.6 million, and not to exceed that amount.

ACC’s first two projects were on the agenda to be funded from the initial installment of bond revenues, $20.7 million and it was noted during the meeting that four other projects will be coming down the line, possibly as soon as September 2022 (for the remaining $18.9 million).

The county manager had suggested language to allow the commissioners’ what he termed “flexibility” to use “bond premium” – i.e., to issue bonds for more than the face value of the $39.6 million, inasmuch as interest rates are now lower than in 2018 when voters approved the dollar amount.

However, commissioners earlier this year rejected that concept for both ACC and ABSS, which also wanted to finance expenditures above and beyond the total price tag voters had approved.

“The premium is not imaginary money. We have to pay it back,” said commissioner Pam Thompson, pointing out that voters approved $39.6 million. “I think that’s what we have to stay committed to,” she suggested.

County commissioner Craig Turner ultimately made a proviso to specify that the commissioners were providing the money now to “front” the community college funds to cover the current projects, but that the entire list of projects would have to stay within the $39.6 million.

“The voters approved $39.6 million for six projects,” Turner said. “The other four projects are either in the planning phase or still in the idea phase,” Turner said, drawing agreement from ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood, who was present to advocate for the additional funding.

But Turner emphasized that the community college may have to make “appropriate adjustments” on remaining elements of its other projects in order to stay within the overall $39.6 million budget.

Though the original motion, as drafted by staff, would have allowed up to $3 million more by using bond premium, Turner said he would not support that. “I believe we ought to ‘front’ ACC the money to take care of these projects” – for the first two projects, the Biotechnology Center of Excellence and the Student Services Center.

Some confusion resulted on the subsequent vote, which initially appeared to have passed 3-2, with commissioners Thompson and Bill Lashley having voted no.

Thompson interjected commentary in the midst of the yea-nay vote, prompting chairman Paisley, ultimately, to entertain additional discussion, then restate the motion, as amended by Turner, and to seek a re-vote on the motion.

Thompson summarized the motion the second time as “spotting” the community college some extra money on its first portion of the bond referendum, with the result being that the amount would be subtracted from the next round of bond funding in September 2022.

This time it passed 5-0.