Douglas County Commission to consider authorizing bond sale for behavioral health campus projects; county’s bond rating reaches top tier

photo by: Contributed photo/Treanor HL

This rendering shows Douglas County's planned behavioral health crisis center, which would be part of the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County, located at 1000 W. Second St., near the corner of Maine and West Second streets. The facility is expected to be constructed by the end of 2021.

Douglas County could soon officially sell bonds to take on debt to fund the construction of its behavioral health campus in Lawrence. The county may also be able to sell them with lower interest rates than originally expected after it recently earned an upgraded bond rating.

During its meeting Wednesday, the County Commission will consider authorizing the sale of general obligation bonds for the purpose of funding the construction of three facilities at the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County, 1000 W. Second St., near the corner of Maine and West Second streets.

The centerpiece of the campus is a planned 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis and recovery center. Construction for the facility broke ground on Oct. 23, the Journal-World has reported. The construction of the two other facilities on the campus — a group housing facility called Transitions and a permanent affordable housing complex called The Cottages — is almost complete, and they are expected to begin operating soon.

In October, the commissioners approved the total project cost of $10.4 million to construct and outfit the crisis and recovery center. That plan included pursuing an $8.8 million debt service plan to pay off the construction of the crisis and recovery center and parts of the construction for Transitions and The Cottages.

The proposed resolution for the bond sale up for consideration on Wednesday shows the county would take on 20 years of debt service. The principal amount and interest rates for the bonds are not listed in the draft resolutions but are expected to be provided during the meeting, according to county documents.

Dave MacGillivray, a financial adviser for Baker Tilly, told the commissioners in October that he anticipated the annual costs for the debt service to be roughly $515,000 a year. The county plans to pay off the debt through the mental health quarter-cent sales tax, which county voters approved in 2018. The county estimates that sales tax will generate about $4.7 million for the 2021 budget.

However, in a news release Tuesday the county announced Moody’s Investors Service, a bond credit rating business, recently upgraded Douglas County’s bond rating from AA1 to AAA, which is the top tier for municipal bonds. The upgrade means the county can sell the bonds for the behavioral health campus at the lowest possible interest rate, which leads to saving taxpayer dollars.

“For the first time in our history, Douglas County’s credit rating has been upgraded to the top tier of financial ratings and it happened during a global pandemic,” County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said in the news release. “This speaks to our responsible fiscal management and the strength of our local economy.”

In other business, the commissioners will consider establishing stormwater management standards that would apply to the Maple Grove watershed, which is in Grant Township and includes parts of the North Lawrence neighborhood.

The commissioners considered the standards during a meeting in October, but some of the commissioners said they had not decided to support them yet.

They will also meet for a work session to discuss home-based nursing services for elderly county residents provided by Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association and Trinity In Home Care. According to a memo to the commissioners, both organizations have been significantly burdened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. Wednesday for its work session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 971-4066-7994.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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