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County BOE pursues $3M bond

The Covington County Board of Education decided Tuesday to pursue a $3 million bond issue that, if awarded, would allow for renovations at each of the system’s nine schools.

The funds are being made available through the Qualified School Construction Bond Program, a new tax credit program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that provides tax credits, in lieu of interest to lenders who issue bonds to eligible school districts.

The board hopes their application will score a $3 million portion of a statewide allotment of more than $169 million. The process is “highly competitive,” interim superintendent Terry Holley said.

“One of the main stipulations is that you have to have a means of backing and repaying the debt,” he said. “In our case, in talking with our chief financial officer, we plan to repay it (by using) sales tax money.”

Because the federal government provides for the “interest” payment, the district is only responsible for repayment of the bond principal. The federal government covers all of the interest in the form of tax credits on these bonds, resulting in savings of up to 50 percent of the cost of these renovation and improvement projects.

“That means these are interest-free bonds and we could possibly end up paying back less than we borrowed,” said Shauna Robertson, the system’s chief financial officer. “This is an ideal situation for us to take advantage of.”

All school districts and school buildings are eligible, regardless of size or poverty levels. The bond proceeds may be used to finance new construction, rehabilitation, repair of public school facilities, the acquisition of land or the acquisition of equipment.

For Covington County Schools, the money would mean renovations such as lowering ceilings, repairing flooring, or installing new windows and doors.

“We want people to be aware this is just the application portion of the process,” Holley said. “We’ll have to wait to see if we’re awarded the money.”

The program is similar to the Qualified Zone Academy (Q-Zab) bond program, which the system used to complete $1 million in renovations in 2008 at Fleeta Jr. High, Florala High, Straughn Elementary, Straughn Middle and W.S. Harlan Elementary schools.