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County set to find financing for ongoing projects

The Laurens County Council is poised to fund Phase 3 of renovations to the county’s Historic Courthouse.

The Laurens County Council took a step toward funding the completion of two of the county’s major construction projects at a special called meeting Tuesday morning at the county’s Hillcrest offices.

While no votes were taken, council members are expected to vote at its regular meeting Monday to authorize a $3.385 million payment to keep construction crews in place at the Historic Laurens County Courthouse so that they can begin and complete Phase 3 of the project, which is projected to cost about $15 million.

Council also began consideration on the issuance of installment purchase revenue bonds to raise approximately $30 million to complete the courthouse project as well as the renovation of the county’s offices at Bolt Drive in Laurens, which currently houses the Office of Voter Registration and is to be the new home of E-911 and emergency services.

The two projects are expected to cost about $15 million each and Brent Robertson, managing director of Stifel Financial Corp., provided a solution to a funding the projects used by other smaller counties and municipalities in South Carolina with the installment purchase revenue bonds (IPRB).

“This is not only the only way to go, it’s the best way to go,” Robertson said of the IRPB.

Laurens County Council Chairman Brown Patterson agreed.

“In my opinion, this is the best way to accomplish what we want to accomplish while also having a low impact on our citizens,” Patterson said.

An IRPB is a way for local governments to fund projects while working around the restrictions of general obligation bonds, which require issuers to stay at or below 8% of its total assessed property values unless passed by referendum.

Here’s how it works:

* A nonprofit entity is formed by the bond issuer and run by a board.

* The nonprofit borrows the funds, which are paid back by the money raised from annual general obligation bonds passed by – in this case – county council.

* Once the debt is retired, the general obligation bonds are no longer needed.

Robertson said the IRPB provides the county a cushion with relatively low annual general obligation bonds, which are estimated to cost Laurens County taxpayers about 3 mils on their properties over the next few years.

With most of the 8% still available, Patterson said the county will have a buffer or funds for a “rainy day” or if a needed investment opportunity presents itself.

County Administrator Thomas Higgs, who was formerly the city administrator for Clinton, successfully rolled out an IRPB for Clinton and has watched the method work in areas across the state.

“I’m leaning heavily on my experience in Clinton rolling out one of these, but also what I know is common practice across the state,” Higgs said.

The issuance IRPBs is more common in rural areas such as Laurens, including places like Fairfield and Bamberg, Robertson said.

“With our growth, I think we are much better positioned in Laurens County than in some of those areas,” Patterson said.

The IRPB will also free up future county funds for capital projects. Patterson said the council has made priorities of providing new or updated space for the Sheriff’s Office and the same for EMS. County fire departments and roads and bridges are also on the list of needs and part of an ongoing facilities study by county leaders.

If the county passes, as expected, a motion to spend $3.385 million to keep construction crews at the Historic Courthouse on site, it will also vote on a plan to pay the county back from funds raised by the bond issue.

Higgs said allowing the crews to leave would not only delay Phase 3 of the courthouse project, but would also cost upwards of $1 million more to get everything back in place for the project.

Councilman David Tribble said not moving forward with the projects would only hurt the projects, in which the county has already made substantial investments.

“We have an opportunity here to take care of our assets and make them functional for future generations,” Tribble said.

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