Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023–7:48 p.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
Although it appeared as though some progress has been made, there still needs to be more discussion before the Rome City Commission takes a vote on the issuance of more than $100 million in bonds for the construction of a new Rome Middle School.
During a two-hour meeting Tuesday, some of the familiar issues kept coming up, including the cost of a new building across Veterans Memorial Highway from the current facility, and what impact such a move would have on traffic on Three Rivers Drive.
Another issue is the risk to the taxpayer if bonds were used to pay for the project.
One proposal would be to pay back the bonds using 20 years of special purpose local option sales taxes for education. Although that is a sales tax, should future ELOST referendums not pass, it could mean a property tax increase of 5 to 6 mills.
“We are not talking about our money,” said Commissioner Craig McDaniel. “We are talking about taxpayer money and exposing the taxpayer to something we have never done before.”
McDaniel added that he is all for supporting the school system; he just doesn’t like the dollar amount. He also said he was still confused over how the number went from $54 million included in the EPLOST to the current price tag of $119 million. He and some others on the commission fear that committing to a 20-year bond could handicap the school system and the city if other projects are needed.
In an attempt to find a happy medium, Commissioner Mark Cochran, who chairs the finance committee, spoke about the possibility of splitting the bonds up. One would be paid over the first five years using the ELOST collections that will start this spring, plus $17 million in capital outlay funds the school system received for taking the current middle school facility offline. The idea could possibly save on interest and shorten the number of years it would take to pay back the bonds.
“That bond takes care of itself,” Cochran said. “Because if we had three years left we are still collecting sales tax and at the end of the five years it’s gone. At the same time, we’re borrowing the other money, but it’s not for $100 million, it’s only for $50 million. At that point in time, if we have to take $50 million and spread it out over 10 years or 15 years, that still leaves them a significant amount of money that they can dabble and play with.”
The next discussion will be during Monday’s Rome City Commission caucus, which will begin early at 4 p.m. at city hall.
“We’re going to bring in some more outside advisors,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. “Our bond counselor will be with us and, of course, we’re going to have Rome City Schools and their architect representative from Southern A & E. They are going to be here to answer some more questions.”
According to Rich, the goal is to arrive at a decision so that construction can begin.