PICKENS COUNTY—The Pickens County School Board voted to use more than $13 million of surplus money from the building program to pay down debt at a meeting last week.
The board voted that, as soon as it was legally and contractually possible, the $13,034,998 will be used for early retirement of bond principal.
“They got the money and borrowed it so early, but they really didn’t get started on the construction until two years later,” said Board Chairman Alex Saitta of the District. “The building program earned an extra $13 million. The budgeted amount was $42 million, and it earned $55 million. This is revenue that is above and beyond the building program construction budget of $374.3 million.”
Saitta says the smartest thing to do with the money is to cover the current debt.
“We made the argument to use the money to pay down debt, but some of the board members want to spend it and grow the building program,” said Saitta.
The chairman says he believes growing the building program can be very dangerous from past experiences.
“Sitting on the school board since 2004, I’ve been down the ‘we have to grow the building plan again’ road seven times now,” said Saitta. “While I did not vote for any of those increases, by now I surely have a sense of what an attempt to grow the building program looks like. This looked awfully suspicious – this $13 million surplus crops up, and here is a list of $9 million in new building projects.”
As the board voted in favor of using the surplus towards debt, Saitta says it is a decision he feels confident the people of Pickens County will agree with.
“My thought was, if the taxpayers voted down a $197 million building plan nearly 2 to 1, surely they would not support expanding the building program an eighth time, growing it from $374 million to over $383 million,” said Saitta.
“Looking at the bond contract, when the building plan ends (scheduled in June 2014), the district will use the $13 million to pay down debt and give taxpayers a tax cut,” Saitta continued. “For that one year, this action will cut the bond millage rate from 54 to about 25 mills. The bond tax is paid on your house, your cars, your boats, your business, etc. It should cut the typical homeowner’s taxes about $275 that year.”
Saitta says the whole decision seemed pretty clear to him.
“If a person went on a spending spree and ran up $50,000 on their credit card, and then they came into $2,000, they wouldn’t spend more,” said Saitta. “They’d use that $2,000 pay down their debt. That is what this motion does.”
The Board also approved the building package and site work for the renovation of the old Easley High School.
The original plan approved for this site in November 2011 (which would have demolished the 1939 building) had a budget of $13.555 million. This plan, which keeps the 1939 building, is also budgeted at $13.555 million.
Saitta says the new plan is heading in the right direction.
“Looking at the actual spending so far, the redrawing of the plans cost an extra $200,000, but this plan has a bigger contingency ($386,517),” said Saitta. “So in reality, the new plan is running about $186,000 less so far.”