Brouhaha over bond refinance continues in Opp

Published 11:09 pm Monday, February 1, 2016

The disagreement between the City of Opp and Opp City Schools over refinancing a bond issue continues two weeks after it began, and appears to be at a stalemate.

The City of Opp is waiting on pricing on two of the four projects for which it would like to use money from a proposed refinancing of a portion of 2007 bond issue that was used to pay for the new elementary school.

Mayor John Bartholomew said Monday that the city is getting prices for repairs at the stadium and at the library.

Bartholomew said he knows it’s not likely the $700,000 to $800,000, depending on interest rates, will pay for all four of the projects he has proposed.

He has also proposed fixing the fire department and installing new bathrooms at the Hardin Street Community Center.

Bartholomew said the stadium, library and fire department are top priorities.

“We are getting these numbers, that way we can sit down with school officials and the city council and discuss the direction on the funds,” he said. “We have no idea how much these projects are going to cost.”

Bartholomew said he was able to talk to Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart, whom he believes may be changing his position. Previously, Smithart has stated the all funds from a reginance should go to schools.

In a phone interview after Monday night’s non-meeting, Smithart said he had not changed his stance.

“We have never questioned whether the city was in it’s right to refinance,” he said. “What we have questioned is was it the right thing to do.”

Smithart said he has not changed his stance in that he believes the “spirit” of the bond issue and the tax levied to pay it off was meant for schools.

“I will reiterate, I think it would be a sad day for the city of Opp to take those funds from the school,” he said. “I will also pledge no taxes and no payments to that debt.”

At the last council meeting in January, Smithart expressed his disdain for the mayor’s plan to take the proceeds from the bonds and use them for city projects.

The original bond issue, which was more than $10 million, was used to pay for the elementary school. The city council also imposed a 1-cent sales tax to pay for the building. The school system pledged 4 mills of ad valorem tax in case the sales tax did not generate enough revenue to pay the $600,000 per year debt on the school.

Smithart said at the previous council meeting that since 2009, the system has supplemented the 1-cent sales tax $300,000.

In the proposed ordinance, which was tabled at a special-called city council meeting on Jan. 21, due to lack of votes, takes the 1-cent sales tax away from the schools and places it in a Regions Bank account to pay for the debt.

Bartholomew said once he has prices, he plans to talk to Smithart again.

“I had Ken Funderburk (of Merchant Capital) talk to Smithart,” he said. “He explained to him it was the city bond.”

Bartholomew said as mayor his circumference is the school, library and everything else.

“I have to work with everyone,” he said. “I can’t have all my focus on the schools. I have to do what is most beneficial to the city.”

When asked why the city has not put a roof on the library already with funds it had already secured, the mayor said that the city thought they had it repaired.

“The repairs no longer worked,” he said. “We need to put a new roof.”

Additionally, Bartholomew said the fire department was in disarray before he took office.