BOONE — Watauga County is moving forward with plans to refinance its loans on Watauga High School, which opened in 2010, that could save the county roughly $900,000.
County Manager Deron Geouque stated at the Aug. 20 meeting that the county had the opportunity to modify a current loan with BB&T bank for Watauga High School. The refinancing allows for an amendment to be made to the county’s installment financing contract. The county last amended the contract to refinance the loan in 2012, according to a resolution passed by the commissioners.
County Finance Director Misty Watson said the county has $30,985,000 left to pay off the loan; this amount is before the refinancing. Watson explained that the county is only able to refinance $23,105,000 of its bonds, as some of the bonds have stipulations that they cannot be refinanced.
Watson also said that the county would not know what the new interest rate would be until the deal is final and the bonds are sold. The current interest rate is 2.99 percent, and Watson said the interest rate could be 2.37 percent if the bonds sold on Sept. 3 — which was not the case but used as an example. Geouque explained that the target amount for savings is $900,000, but that the amount could be more or less depending on the agreement that is made.
The commissioners hosted a public hearing on Sept. 3 to allow citizen comment on the proposed refinancing; no citizens signed up to speak. The commissioners approved an engagement letter with Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein LLP as well as an engagement letter with S&P Global Ratings for services provided for the refinancing of the debt at the Sept. 3 meeting.
Parker Poe is serving as bond counsel to the county; S&P Global Ratings is providing credit rating services.
The commissioners also approved a resolution stating that the county is committed to partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau and the state of North Carolina for the 2020 census. Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said that census day is April 1, and he’s working with the town of Boone, Appalachian State University and others to create a Complete Count Committee to ensure accurate numbers. Furman said typically the low count areas are places where App State students live, and that it’s important to get the word out that students should be counted here in Watauga.
The resolution states that the county agrees to encourage all county residents to participate in events and initiatives that will raise the overall awareness of the 2020 Census and increase participation; provide Complete County Committee members and Census advocates to speak to county and community organizations as needed; support census takers as they help the county complete an accurate count and strive to achieve a complete and accurate count of all persons within the county’s borders.
A third resolution was passed at the meeting that was requested by Vaya Health to support funding to meet the needs of mental health, intellectual/development disabilities and substance abuse disorder services. According to the commissioners agenda, Vaya Health passed a similar resolution at a Aug. 22 board meeting that opposed continued cuts to single-stream funding for individuals using these services.
In August, VAYA Health’s CEO Brian Ingraham said the organization could be experiencing a $9 million cut to funding by the state. He stated then that this would be the fifth year in a row that there have been reductions from the state, and that it would add up to $57 million if the $9 million were cut.
Vaya was asking individual counties to pass resolutions as well, and then Vaya would plan to submit these resolutions to the state legislature, according to the commissioner’s agenda.
“Vaya has already reinvested $18.5 million of its Medicaid savings in a broad array of initiatives designed to directly address the needs of the citizens of Watauga County, including but not limited to expanding facility-based crisis and behavioral health urgent care services, implementing an innovative evidenced-based service to support children aging out of the foster care system, distributing opioid overdose reversal kits, increasing provider rates and expanding medication-assisted treatment,” according to the county’s resolution.
Both commissioners Billy Kennedy and Charlie Wallin spoke about the impacts local services were experiencing due to the projected loss in funding. Wallin, who sits on the board of the Watauga County Department of Social Services, said this was a large topic of discussion for the DSS board last week. He said the lack of funding means less resources and staffing, and the county is having to outsource for some services.
The resolution calls for the state to stop the decrease in single-stream funding and to allow Vaya Health to build up its Medicaid savings so that it can reinvest in services and supports for the community.