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Spotsy preps for bond program

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Spotsylvania County plans to host informational meetings on a November bond referendum that, if approved by voters, would allow the county to borrow millions of dollars for roads and schools.

But County Administrator Doug Barnes stressed that the meetings, which have not yet been scheduled, cannot be used to encourage the public to vote a certain way.

“It’s very important that the citizens are informed,” Barnes told the Board of Supervisors recently. “This is not a bias thing. This is an informative, here’s the facts. It is not permissible for us to advocate voting yea or nay.”

In fact, eight years ago, then-Schools Superintendent Jerry Hill was indicted on a charge of violating state election law after the School Board distributed fliers critical of a 2005 bond referendum. The School Board had requested $184 million worth of bonds, but the supervisors decided to put a lower amount—$41 million—on the ballot instead.

The charge against Hill was dropped because a judge ruled that it was an administrative issue, not a criminal one.

Voters ultimately approved the 2005 referendum, allowing the county to borrow a total of up to $277.7 million for roads, schools, parks/libraries and public safety. But that borrowing authority expires in the fall of next year.

This year, voters likely will be asked if the county should borrow money for roads, schools and public safety projects. Voters will cast separate votes on each of those three categories.

“You may have a situation where people are inclined to vote for the schools and not transportation or vice versa,” Barnes said. “We want to give them that flexibility.”

Bonnie Jewell, a senior financial analyst with the county, estimated that this year’s referendum could authorize up to $277 million in borrowing.

The topic of another referendum first came up earlier this year during discussions about improvements to the Interstate 95 interchange in Massaponax. Proposed upgrades include a $45 million to $58 million “super ramp” that would carry southbound traffic from Exit 126 to the U.S. 17 Bypass.

It’s unclear exactly what projects will be on the upcoming referendum. Supervisors did recently vote to support a new, no-kill animal shelter, which could be included in a public safety bond referendum.

Generally speaking, school projects could include new schools, renovations, new technology and new school buses.

Transportation appears to be the big-ticket item.

County staff have asked board members to tell them exactly what road upgrades they’d like to see included, and a transportation committee will also recommend projects.

“I think after I looked at what my priorities were, it was almost $250 million dollars,” Supervisor Gary Skinner said.

Barnes said the county will need to provide residents with detailed information on every road project and why each one is needed. They’ll also need to tell residents exactly how the county will pay back the borrowed money, he said.

In addition to hosting public meetings, the county plans to produce printed information that could be distributed at the polls.

“What we found out [in 2005] is every meeting brings out more questions, so you have to be prepared to get that information out,” Barnes said.

TIMELINE

JUNE 9: School Board finalizes a list of projects for the schools referendum and forwards it to county government staff.

JUNE 23: School Board adopts resolution on the schools portion of the referendum.

JUNE 24: Board of Supervisors finalizes a list of county government projects to be included in the referendum.

JULY 8: Board of Supervisors approves the entire bond referendum.

AUG. 1: County attorney files a request for the referendum with the Circuit Court.

NOV. 4: Voters will vote on the bond referendum.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

 

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