School board chair asks city for funding assistance
by Laura Johnson
The Jacksonville City Council and the Jacksonville Board of Education have their collective eyes on major construction projects down the road, but in a meeting Friday the school board chairman learned the two entities don’t have enough buying power to secure funding for everything they both want to build.

The city of Jacksonville is in the process of securing about $14 million in bond debt to build a public safety complex.

Meanwhile, the school board wants enough money to build a middle school and an elementary school, a project expected to have a combined cost of roughly $18 million.

School officials on Friday asked the city to consider structuring the safety complex bond to help build the schools because the schools can only secure $14 million for the projects, city and school officials said.

“Might this be a window of opportunity that we could do all three projects?” Jacksonville School Board Chairman Mike Poe asked the council.

After more than an hour of discussion, city officials said they won’t be able to dedicate the bond debt to the school construction projects without jeopardizing their plans for the planned safety complex. City officials said they would work with meeting attendee Ken Funderburk, an investment banker commissioned by the city, to review the numbers to see if they can work with the school system.

Mayor Johnny Smith said the city’s public safety complex plans have expanded to 71,000 square feet from 59,000 square feet, and questioned the expansion.

“We’ve started to get to the point where we are out of control with this facility,” Smith said.

“If we pull that back we might have a little bit more flexibility.”

While some with the city want to help the school system if they can, they also worry that waiting – even a week – to recalculate the bond debt information could end up costing the city more money. That’s because rates are volatile and can quickly increase.

“I agree with you on wanting to continue the conversation, but I want to go on,” Council Chairman Mark Jones said. “I’d like to do something this week.”

Funderburk agreed to move forward with bond proceedings in the coming week, but city officials said he will do so in such a way that will allow them enough flexibility to add to the bond debt later in order to help the schools.

The City Council didn’t come to any definitive conclusions about the matter at Friday’s meeting. It scheduled a second work session for next Thursday at 4:30 to discuss the topic again.

During that meeting council members said they will continue to discuss the matter and may also discuss scaling back the public safety complex project. City officials said they could decide this month about whether the city will help the school system with the projects.

If city officials decide to help they might have to amend their own development project. If they decide not to, Poe said, the school system would amend its plans, opting to build an elementary school and that it would likely scrap plans to build a middle school.

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
© 2013