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Lee officials OK bond resolution

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Lee County Attorney Jimmy Skipper spelled out the significance of the resolution before the County Commission at a special called meeting Thursday evening.

"This is the final piece of the puzzle in putting this all together," Skipper said.

When the Commission, minus Smithville/Chokee Commissioner Dennis Roland, voted unanimously to approve a supplemental bond resolution approved unanimously by the Lee Utilities Authority a half-hour earlier, a huge financial burden was removed from the Utilities Authority, and by proxy, Lee County taxpayers.

"What we've done in putting together this bond issuance is make the Utilities Authority self-supporting," Trey Monroe with Merchant Capital Investment Bankers told Commissioners. "Over the next eight years, the cash-flow savings will amount to $7,600,142. That's money (the Authority) would have been coming to the county for."

The votes by the Utilities Authority and the County Commission Thursday, and the purchase today of some $22 million in bonds by Merchant Capital, will finalize a restructuring of the Authority's debt, incurred while completing necessary infrastructure upgrades in the county.

And, Monroe told both groups, because county leaders secured a AA- credit rating through a visit with Standard & Poor's debt analysts in New York, the county will save significantly over the course of the bond repayment.

"Because of your AA- rating, you saved the county around a million and a half dollars," Monroe said. "If you'd gone to the rating agency just three years ago, you probably would have been looking at an A rating, which is pretty good. But at the end of the day, the things you've done in the last three years got you the AA- rating and saved the county around $1.5 million."

During the Utilities Authority meeting, Board Chairman George Walls asked, "When we complete this, are we going to be able to meet our financial obligations without a fund transfer from the county?"

Authority General Manager Chris Boswell said, "That's why we restructured the debt," and Board Vice Chairman/County Commission Chairman Ed Duffy replied, "The county shouldn't have to transfer money to the Authority again."

"Is this written in stone? Is this the last thing we have to do?" Walls asked.

"Bottom line, this is a done deal," Skipper replied.

The county attorney said the supplemental bond resolution voted on by the two boards will set official numbers on the bonds at $22,070,000 for 22 years at a rate of 3.987 percent, will approve a purchase agreement with Merchant Capital and will terminate existing debt owed by the Authority.

"It's been an honor to work with the county on this matter," said Monroe, who served as financial consultant for Lee County throughout the debt restructuring. "I'm pleased that we were able to bring you such good news. But by doing what you've done, you've saved the county a lot of money."

After voting to approve the bond resolution, the Utlities Authority Board voted unanimously to approve the Authority's Fiscal Year 2011 budget, set at $3,154,980.

Following its vote on the resolution, the County Commission voted to set aside an existing sign moratorium and approve sign permits for the Publix and CVS Pharmacy businesses under construction on U.S. 19. The businesses had submitted specifications for the signs before the moratorium was in effect.