January 25. 2006 11:59AM
Timetable set for school
By ERIC FRAZIER
School construction financed with the bonds Davidson County voters
approved in November will be spread over six years, meaning the list of
projects tied to the referendum will be completed in 2011.
In all, the election authorized the county to issue $71.6 million in
general obligation bonds. Davidson County Community College won approval
for $5.2 million. Lexington City Schools will receive $10.9 million,
Thomasville City Schools will receive $7 million and Davidson County
Schools will spend the remaining $48.5 million.
The county commissioners may have wished they had a crystal ball Tuesday
night, but to make their decision, they relied on three sets of
spreadsheets prepared by Assistant County Manager Zeb M. Hanner.
Administrators for Davidson County Schools had urged the board to choose a
five-year timetable, dubbed Option 1, to complete the work. Hanner
sketched out two less aggressive plans that stretched the building
projects over six and seven years.
"I think the middle ground is probably the place for us to be,"
recommended County Manager Robert Hyatt. The board took his advice and
voted 6-0 for Option 2. Don Truell was absent due to illness.
Each of the three options attempted to forecast the effects of borrowing
on the county budget, particularly on cash reserves left in the fund
balance after meeting what will be mounting debt payments for years to
come. The fund balance would decline under all three proposals.
"We're going to start hitting problems in the fifth year whether we do
Option 1, 2 or 3," Hanner told the commissioners. "It just comes faster."
Under the timetable sought by the schools, the county's fund balance would
shrink from more than $22 million to $18 million, or about 13.8 percent of
general fund expenditures. State regulators insist local governments
maintain a minimum of 8 percent cash reserves. Option 2 would leave a 17
percent fund balance.
By delaying part of the borrowing, county officials hope anticipated
growth of tax revenues will help cover the larger debt payments. But
delaying the projects will mean higher construction costs and continued
overcrowding due to enrollment growth.
Dr. Fred Mock, superintendent of the county schools, Don Palmer, chairman
of the board of education, and several administrators quietly left the
meeting room after the vote. Their disappointment was evident.
"Our board of education had requested Option 1," Mock said in an
interview. "My bottom-line concern is having classrooms to put children
in, in the north Davidson and Ledford areas, particularly.
"It's going to be tight. We're going to do the best we can with what we've
All three scenarios assumed the 54-cent county property tax rate will not
be raised, but all three relied on keeping that rate intact after an
expected revaluation in 2007.
Commissioners Chairman Fred McClure acknowledged that approach will be
viewed as a tax increase.
"To me, it's a much fairer tax increase, to let the government grow as the
county grows," he said.
All three options allowed DCCC to begin a series of projects and Lexington
City Schools to begin its new intermediate school in the first year.
Under Option 1, the county school system would have begun a new elementary
school in the western Davidson area the first year. A second elementary
school in the central area would have been built in the second year and a
new northern area middle school would have come in the fourth year.
Thomasville also would have begun its primary, middle and high school
renovations in the first year.
Option 2 calls for the county's second elementary school to be pushed into
the third year and the middle school to be delayed until the fifth year.
Renovations at other county schools are spread out, and Thomasville will
also have to delay work on the primary school until the second and third
Option 3 would have meant the new county middle school would be pushed off
the chart, beyond budget year 2010-11.
That was unacceptable to Max Walser, who is a former county
superintendent. He argued for Option 1 and distributed a document
detailing rapidly rising construction costs for new schools across the
"I don't think they can build what was promised," he said. "It's going to
be tough with the money they've got. The longer you wait, the tougher it's
going to get."
Cindy Akins worried that beginning too many projects at the same time
would make it difficult for school officials to keep track of all the
Larry Potts questioned whether enough contractors were available to start
all of the projects in Option 1.
Sam Watford, who made the motion to adopt Option 2, was convinced the
middle option was fast enough and represented the best stewardship of
"In 2006-07, we're going to have $25 million worth of school construction
going on in this county," he observed. "... You can't compare that to
anything that's ever happened in this county. I think we're going
Hanner noted after the meeting that many variables make five-year
prognostications dicey for county governments. State mandates, like the
recent order to purchase new voting machines, can significantly alter
budgets. His forecast also assumes all departments will spend everything
they have budgeted, but for several years, most have achieved savings that
kept the fund balance higher than initially predicted.
Eric Frazier can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or
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