Lee Authority OKs debt restructuring

LEESBURG, Ga. -- The Lee County Utilities Authority voted to restructure some $26 million in debt Thursday, setting the stage for a bond issuance that will give the Authority operating capital over the next two years without the need for a transfer from the county's general fund.

"I don't see where we have much choice here," Authority Chairman George Walls said before the board's vote gave attorney Jimmy Skipper its blessing to move forward with plans to file a valuation proceding in federal court today.

That action also needed approval of an intergovernmental agreement by the Lee County Commission, which was granted at that body's meeting later in the evening.

The debt restructuring will allow for a "manageable" debt service payment by the Authority over the next two years without a transfer from the county's general fund. Authority vice chairman -- and Lee County Commission Chair -- Ed Duffy said without the restructuring, the county would have to transfer $813,000 during the current fiscal year "for the Authority to keep its doors open, so to speak."

Skipper said time was of the essence on the matter.

"If you approve this resolution tonight -- and the Board of Commissioners approves theirs later -- we can file this in federal court tomorrow," he said. "That will do two things: authorize a bond issuance and establish the upper limits of the amount, number of years and interest rate of the bonds.

"And I recommend we set them high enough so that there's no danger of us exceeding any of the numbers."

The Authority set the upper limits at no more than $27 million for no more than 25 years at an interest rate of no more than 6 percent.

"The actual numbers will be well below that," said Trey Monroe, vice president of Atlanta-based Merchant Capital LLC, which has been advising the authority on the matter. "What we're looking to do is get you to a debt number that's reasonable."

In other action at the meeting, the Authority denied a request to purchase an independently-owned water system off Philema Road at a cost of more than $385,000.

"My recommendation is that the Authority stay away from this," Walls said before the vote. "It's going to cost us $500,000 to renew that system in a couple of years if we buy it. I recommend we stay away from this until he gives it to us or until we can go out there and lay our own lines."

The Authority board also asked Skipper and Authority General Manager Chris Boswell to follow up on efforts to have contractor Jim Boyd Construction repair faulty work at the county's wastewater treatment plant and to collect some $81,000 in fees owed by a partnership between developer George McIntosh and Oakland Partners for work completed on county pump stations 3 and 4.