County to Godwin: Stay out of our business until November

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Commissioners told newly-elected Chairman Bill Godwin Monday to stay out of county business until he takes office in November.

Godwin had requested to be on the commission’s agenda to share his opinion “as a private citizen” on proposals to refinance two bond issues and increase the debt by $2 million, a move that would provide the county’s matching funds for a total of $12 million in road and bridge repairs.

Commissioners have discussed for more than a month the possibility of the financial move that would allow the county to resurface an estimated 75 miles of major connector routes. First, they would have to refinance a 2002 bond series with a $1.025 outstanding balance, as well as a 2005 series with a more than $7 million balance. With the bonds financed at interest rates ranging from 4.03-4.32 percent, financial advisors believe the county could save money by refinancing at a lower interest rate – and generate the additional revenue by extending the term of the bond.

Godwin called the county’s consideration of refinancing the 2002 bonds a “sound idea;” however, he disagreed with refinancing the 2005 series and incurring additional debt.

But commissioners told him it was still their jobs to make the decisions.

“If you don’t have all the information, then save your comments until November,” Commissioner Bragg Carter told Godwin.

Godwin said he believes the county should “take a wait and see attitude” on refinancing the 2005 series and that they should not add to the debt. The county should have already identified matching funds for the highway projects from its monies from FEMA projects, those set aside for new personnel positions, he said.

“My question is, ‘What’s more important? Securing matching monies or paving new roads and funding new personnel positions?’” he said. “I believe we could borrow less than $2 million and still obtain the maximum amount from the state.”

Godwin asked commissioners to publicly commit to use any borrowed money only for existing roads and bridges, not other capital improvements.

Commissioner David Ellis said, “No,” while Commissioner Carl Turman said he couldn’t commit when “we haven’t covered all the bases.”

Carter and Commissioner Harold Elmore agreed to Godwin’s request.

Ellis likened the county’s decision to accept state money for road projects to Godwin’s accepting farming subsidies.

“Bill, you’ve taken a lot of 80/20 money in your life,” Ellis said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Commissioners amended the agenda to let Godwin’s former opponent, Kylan Lewis, also voice his views.

“I’m not here because of sour grapes for having lost,” Lewis said. “Mr. Godwin won fair and square, and I understood that losing was a possibility. No big deal. I feared that if he (were) elected we would have four years of turmoil.

“I have to admit I was wrong,” he said. “It looks as if we are in for more than four years of turmoil. It has already started.”

Lewis said Godwin is “already making demands to participate in commission deliberations and posturing in the county as if his tenure had already begun.”

“If so, and he is allowed to continue, then you open your deliberations to all like-minded people, and doing so may be illegal,” he said. “(Godwin) has no more right, in this regard, than anyone else.”

Lewis said the refinancing is a “good deal.”

“We must plan for, and look to, the future if we intend to maintain and improve our roads,” he said.

Lewis asked the commission to not be swayed by Godwin’s comments.

“I urge you to do what is best for all, and not what is expedient,” Lewis said. “Don’t be swayed by those who are louder, more bellicose or think themselves more enlightened. Do what you individually, and as a body, think is right, and all will work out.”

Commissioners previously had been expected to make a decision on the refinancing yesterday; however, no vote was taken.