The Cumberland Times-News Thu Sep 30, 2010, 07:58 AM EDT
— OAKLAND — The Garrett County Commission paid off the county’s $1.7 million bond debt and also allocated thousands for paving a school parking lot in an unexpected and unscheduled move during Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Commissioner Fred Holliday proposed paying off the remainder of the bond during the public session of the meeting, a surprise even to County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt. But Pagenhardt said he views both the bond repayment and the paving project as good moves for the county.
“We have the money to do it,” Pagenhardt said. “It’s something we’re going to have to do, in time. … It puts us in a position not to have to worry about the debt service payment in upcoming years or to consider funding the parking lot.”
The money for the payment came from the county’s undesignated fund balance, a rainy day fund that totaled about $5.3 million at the end of fiscal 2010.
The fund’s remaining balance of $3.6 million still satisfies the county’s policy of holding at least 5 percent of its operating budget in reserve, Pagenhardt said.
The expenditures were approved by Holliday and Commission President Ernie Gregg. Both Gregg and Holliday lost their bids for re-election in the primary and will be leaving office at the end of 2010.
Commissioner Denny Glotfelty, who is battling cancer, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Holliday said paying off the debt has been one of his goals since taking office. It means the county is debt-free for its general budget, and will also save an annual debt service payment of about $332,000.
“When we had the carryover … I decided that it was time to go ahead and pay it off,” Holliday said. “And that means that next year the $330,000 will be available for operating expenses.”
The commission has pushed for spending reductions in the face of an economic downturn and state funding cuts, using cost-cutting measures that included postponing county roads employees’ scheduled pay increases.
But Holliday defended the $1.7 million payment, saying it would free the county of a burdensome annual payment and save money in the long run.
The bond debt was the remaining balance of a $4 million bond taken out in 1996 to pay the local match for Yough Glades Elementary School and to upgrade Wilson Road for use by the Mettiki Coal Corp.
There is no prepayment penalty for paying off the balance early, Pagenhardt said.
The paving of a parking lot near the athletic fields at Southern Garrett County High School had been included in the board of education’s capital improvement plan for fiscal 2012, but the commission opted to spend $126,000 to complete it immediately using county roads employees for the work.
The county had received an outside bid on the project of about $260,000, Pagenhardt said, so completing the work in-house led to significant savings.
Gregg said the project was “sorely needed” and that he was comfortable with the expenditures partly because the county “will have a substantial influx of new money coming from public utilities within the next few months.”
He said the anticipated increase will be due to the county’s two wind power pro-jects — now under construction — becoming operational by year’s end.
Both Holliday and Gregg said they would have taken the same steps even if they were still in the running for the November general election.
“As far as I’m concerned, the election has nothing to do with that,” Gregg said. “I’d like to think that I have never governed based on what I think the politics were. The things I’ve done have not been politically motivated.”