Douglas County Commission authorizes sale of bonds to fund behavioral health campus projects; annual cost lower than originally expected

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’s annual costs to pay off 20 years of debt for behavioral health construction projects will be lower than originally expected.

The County Commission on Wednesday approved the sale of general obligation bonds to fund construction projects for its behavioral health campus, which included a 20-year debt service with a 1.27% interest rate.

Compared to the county’s original estimation, the low interest rate brought the county’s costs down by $10,000-$15,000 each year, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. The savings will allow the revenue generated through the county’s quarter-cent sales tax, which voters approved in 2018 for the behavioral health projects, to be used for other purposes, she said.

“That’s really great,” Plinsky said. “That will free us up in the mental health sales tax fund to apply that additional funding toward services and operations, which is what we want to be able to do.”

Dave MacGillivray, a financial adviser for Baker Tilly, told the commissioners in October when they initially approved the plan to sell bonds for the projects that he expected the county would pay about $515,000 a year in annual debt service. However, the approved bond sale on Wednesday showed the county spending roughly $500,000 each year instead.

According to the approved bond documents, the county will receive about $8.45 million for the construction projects, which will be paid back with interest, totaling about $10.06 million in 2040. The revenue from the bond sale will be used to fund some of the construction costs for 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.

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky and financial advisors of Baker Tilly speak to the County Commission about the sale of general obligation bonds to fund construction projects at the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County during a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

But the commissioners were able to see even further savings during the meeting. They also authorized the sale of taxable general obligation bonds for the purpose of refinancing some of the outstanding debt the county took on in 2013 to fund improvements to its 911 operating system and the construction of its public works facility.

Those bonds also were sold at the 1.27% rate, which again led to significant savings. MacGillivray had told the commissioners in October he expected the refinancing to save the county about $870,000. But on Wednesday MacGillivray said the low interest rate led to a savings of $1.4 million, almost a 40% increase in savings.

The savings realized through the bonds were possible because of a recent upgrade in the county’s credit rating. As the Journal-World previously reported, Moody’s Investors Service recently elevated the county’s rating to AAA, which is the top tier for municipal bonds. The upgrade means the county can sell the bonds at the lowest possible interest rate, which leads to saving taxpayer dollars.

The commissioners all noted the significance of the elevated rating and congratulated Plinsky and her staff for achieving it. Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said it shows the value of responsible government.

“It feels like Christmas came early for (Plinsky),” Kelly said. “Her hard work has really paid off.”

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

The standards, which were originally proposed to the commissioners in October, outline development plan requirements related to water drainage to help alleviate flooding issues in the area, such as requiring new development to have one or more stormwater storage basins to hold and retain water runoff from severe storms, among other standards.

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