Opp Council still mulling bond refinance

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Despite pressure from two companies willing to help the Opp City Council proceed with the refinancing of a portion of its 2007 bond issue, the council took no action to move forward on Monday night.

The mayor and superintendent have been at odds since mid-January over who should get the estimated $700,000 to $800,000 in savings that would be generated by a refinance.

This portion of the bond was set aside for the building of Opp Elementary School, which opened in 2009.

The city implemented a 1-cent sales tax to pay for the debt.

If the 1-cent sales tax doesn’t generate enough money to make the bond payment, the system uses some of the money it receives from a 4-mill property tax to make up the difference.

To date, that has been about $300,000, according to school officials.

Superintendent Michael Smithart on Monday pled with the city council to direct the funds to the school system for much-needed projects.

Specifically, Smithart wants to pump $400,000 into infrastructure to bring OCS into the 21st Century in terms of technology and $112,000 to put fire alarms at Opp Middle School.

He also pledged to fix the awning at Channell-Lee Stadium.

Smithart told the council that the school board fully understood that the council had full legal authority to do what it pleases with the money, but he feels that they have a moral authority to invest in its students.

He said if they don’t give the money to the system, they are signaling to the business and industrial world that the city doesn’t value its young people.

Since the system has shelled out $300,000 in additional money, Smithart said they have skin in the game.

Smithart said since he took over as superintendent eight years ago, the state has cut its foundation program funding to Opp City Schools by a total of about $8 million.

“We are still trying to provide the same level of services on that much less,” he said.

Smithart said they knew that one day it would be time to refinance the bonds, and they were counting on the proceeds to be able to do the needed projects, especially after taking funding cuts over the last few years.

“This is what our kids need,” he said. “Let’s give them the opportunity to improve their lives.”

Only Councilman Arlin Davis pledged his full support for the bond issue.

“I think everyone wants to do what’s right,” he said.

Councilman Mike Booth said he was 100 percent behind Opp City Schools, but the council has to make a decision.

Booth said he hoped they could reach a medium.

Councilman T.D. Morgan said there had to be a compromise between the city and school board or he would not vote for it.

Councilman Bobby Ray Owens said if the mayor and superintendent couldn’t get together and decide, he wasn’t for it, either.

Representatives from Merchant Capital and Harbor Financial were on hand urging the council to go ahead with the bond issue even if they had to stipulate that no money could be spent without unanimous approval.

They said the market was volatile and the longer the council waited the less of a guarantee there is that the would get any savings.