04/27/14 — County says 'no' to lease

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County says 'no' to lease

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 27, 2014 1:50 AM

Wayne County commissioners Friday morning delivered what amounted to an ultimatum to the county Board of Education -- accept the method the commissioners wants to use to finance and to build two new schools, or be prepared to shoulder the blame for any additional delays or costs.

State law vests the authority to build new schools with the local boards of education. However, commissioners have effectively limited the school board's options by rejecting outright its desire to use a capital lease.

The lease would require commissioners' approval -- something commissioners made clear during Friday morning's special-called session isn't going to happen.

Instead, commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the school board to use design/bid/build.

Under that plan, the county would bid out the project based on plans already prepared by SfL+a, the firm hired by the school board to build the schools.

The county would finance the roughly $38 million project through certificates of participation, similar to a mortgage, or a similar method that does not require a public vote.

The commissioners emphasized that this was not a rejection of the plan to build the schools -- just a disagreement on how they will be financed.

The land has been purchased and the plans approved, Commissioner Joe Daughtery said.

"The decision to build these schools has been made, it is now time for the school board to pass a resolution to use the design/bid/build method to build these schools," he said. "I know this may sound harsh, but the fact is there are now only two choices -- build using the bid/build method or place these projects on hold.

"Any delay from this day forward rests squarely on the school board."

Friday's vote was the latest installment in a back-and-forth struggle between the two boards on how two new energy-efficient middle schools in the Grantham and Spring Creek communities should be built. Both want the schools, but they cannot agree on how to finance the projects.

"We are going to try to proceed," school board Chairman John Grantham said after the meeting. "I mean if that is the only way they want to build schools, we are going to do whatever it takes on our end, whatever we can to speed the process up.

"We have done that all along."

Grantham, who was at the meeting, said he expects the school board will meet by the middle of this week to consider its next move.

But Grantham said he really couldn't say what that move would be.

"Between now and the meeting, we will have to explore what kind of schedule we are looking at," he said. "We need to have time to do that research and poll all of the board members as well as to what we should do based on the options that are available.

"But it doesn't appear (the commissioners) are going to go with anything but bid/build, and if they want the responsibility for delaying the project, or the quality of the project, then I guess it is up to them to do that."

Grantham said he wasn't surprised by the board's decision.

"But I was kind of frustrated to hear the county manager present a figure of $3.4 million of extra cost (to use a capital lease)," he said. "That is not even a ball park number. We have tried to show them where we have come up with the numbers, but they didn't want to hear it."

In his recommendation to commissioners, Interim County Manager George Wood said the lease method is not only untried, but that it would cost $3.4 million more than design/bid/build.

Wood is basing his recommendation on information provided by people with experience in financing, but none in construction, Grantham said.

Just as he did at the school board's meeting last week, Grantham, who is a contractor, questioned Wood's math.

Neither the numbers nor Wood's proposed schedule are realistic, Grantham said.

Daughtery chastised the school board for publicly attacking Wood, saying that does not help the process.

Wood does not "have a dog in this fight," Daughtery said.

He said commissioners had initially agreed to move forward despite "very limited details" concerning the school board's original proposal of using an operating lease.

But after questions were raised by the Local Government Commission, whose approval is needed before the project can proceed, it was decided to scrap that plan.

It was then that the school board began to talk about the capital lease, Daughtery said.

That method is too expensive and not a wise use of taxpayers' dollars, he said.

During his presentation Friday, Wood answered and dismissed concerns about the commissioners' proposal that the school board had raised at its meeting last week.

Wood rejected assertions by the school board that switching to the design/bid/build method would require the county to interview and to hire a construction manager and to rebid the projects, a process that could require at least three months.

He disagreed as well that a delay could cost the county a half million dollars or more because of inflation.

He also said that using the capital lease would not "appreciably reduce" the time necessary for awarding bids.

Wood also pointed out that Bob High of Davenport & Co., the county's financial consultants, recommended the design/bid/build.

High is a former North Carolina deputy treasurer, and as such, served as secretary of the Local Government Commission, Wood said.

Those credentials serve to "strengthen" the county's insistence that design/bid/build be used, he said.