The Daviess County Council reluctantly accepted a plan to pay down bonds issued in 2011 for land at WestGate. The move is expected to save the county around $80,000 to $90,000 per year and should put the county in a position to completely retire the bonds in 2021 instead of 2026.
"This puts the county is a much better financial situation," said Executive Director for the Daviess County Economic Development Corporation Bryant Niehoff.
The plan is to use economic development income tax or EDIT funds almost exclusively to pay down the bonds starting with $1.65 million this year.
"It's an amount that won't hinder the remaining funds from being so low we cannot work on a potential project down the line," said Niehoff. It will leave us with a balance and lower the interest payment moving forward."
While the commissioners had moved the plan forward, the county council thought it retired those bonds long ago. "I thought we voted to pay this off," said County Councilman Pat Dant. "Why did this change."
The council voted in January to retire the entire $3.1 million left on the bond issue. The council approved the payout to include money not just from the EDIT fund but also the General Fund and Riverboat Fund. The commissioners though declined to follow through on that pay-out.
"That money should come from EDIT," said Gabhart. "The original contract in 2011 was from EDIT and money from the land. The board of commissioners were not comfortable with using non-EDIT funds."
County Council members though appeared frustrated that the pay-off had not gone forward as they had laid it out.
"Things changed and we were trying to adapt to it," said President of the County Council Mike Sprinkle. "We want to do what is best and right for the county. That's our job. That's what we took the oath of office to do. We were just disheartened that we weren't involved in the negotiation process more than we were."
"I did not share every email as we worked through this," said Gabhart. "Some folks were looped in on the decision and some were not."
That lack of communication left a sour taste with the council members.
"We're disappointed that when things needed to change that the talks were held without the full council being involved," said Sprinkle. "The full council voted to do things differently and I felt as president of the Council the council members should have been involved with the process, but we weren't."
The EDIT fund is expected to be left with a $500,000 balance after the payments are made. Sprinkle questions whether that will be enough if the county should come across businesses looking to land in the I-69 corridor.
"The EDIT tax was adopted for Economic Development," he said. "This is going to pull our EDIT funds down to the point there will be a lesser amount for the next three years. I feel certain there are a lot of things brewing out on the horizon as far as economic development in the county and the last thing I want to do is to tie our hands so that we can't attract some good business to come here."
Niehoff says he has been assured by the commissioners that if a major project comes in that needs more than what can be offered through the existing EDIT that officials will "look at using some other fund."
"That's one of the problems I have," said Sprinkle. "It's we'll look at it, not the money is there. I just don't want to delete the EDIT fund completely so that we can't pursue these projects down the road."
Despite their reservations the council did accept the partial paydown that will be made around August 1. "I would have liked to have saved the additional money, but if that can't happen then we need to save what we can," said Councilman Tony Duncheon who made the motion to go forward with the repayment plan. "Any amount of taxpayer money is significant."
"It will cost the taxpayers more than what we voted on in January," added Sprinkle. "It's going to cost several hundred thousands more to do today than what we voted to do in January.
The council expressed that the lost savings have a lot to do with a failure to communicate between the council and commissioners. "Going forward we need to have all of our research done ahead of time so that we can make a much better decision," said Sprinkle. "If this comes up again we will all sit down together and come up with a solution rather than coming to us piecemeal like they did today."