HISID considers reducing debt on wastewater treatment facility

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- In its overview of the proposed 2013 budget Monday, Holiday Island commissioners discussed how they might reduce the debt service on the wastewater treatment plant, which currently stands at $365,896 per year.

That payment comes from two sources: assessments and sewer billing. Of the two, sewer billing generates one and half times the amount assessments does.

District Manager Gerald Hartley said if the district continues to pay the current debt service amount every year, by 2031 it will have paid $7.2 million for the plant. Original bonds were issued for $5.6 million. He said currently there is $749,825 in the debt service fund.

Commissioner Linda Graves pointed out the district is running $70,000 or more over collections and that the money goes into the general or the wastewater operating funds instead of into the dedicated debt service fund.

"Is that what we're legally entitled to do? ... I was just wondering why they aren't going into the $700,000 reserve account?" she asked, although she added that money has helped the operating bottom line.

Hartley said that had been the district's practice, but to him, it is one of the "unanswered questions" that should be addressed by bond or general counsel.

"What do we do with the money that is in excess of debt service? I can't really tell you. In terms of restrictions, there is not really anything there," he said.

Commissioner Ken Brown asked whether there is a possibility of reducing the water rates because the district is generating excess.

"We're barely able to meet our debt service requirements as it is now," Hartley replied. "And probably we're going to see those have to go up in the future."

He said there might be an option of refinancing the bonds to get a better interest rate.

"Even half a percent would shave off a lot," he said.

He added it is doubtful the district could get a grant with $1.1 million in the bank.

Commissioner Ken Ames expressed caution about drawing on reserves until the district sees how much income it will gain from assessments.

"I'm concerned these numbers will fluctuate," he said.

On the water side, Hartley said the district has $40,000 budgeted for a leak detection study. He is developing a Request for Qualifications for an engineering firm to conduct the study.

Commissioners passed Reg. 40, to adopt the 2013 budget, but voted against codifying it into the regulations after Hartley told them they are not required to pay the fees to have it codified.

The 2013 budget has no increase in the assessment rate.

In his report, Hartley said the district has taken in $1.8 million in assessments, "a little under what we had anticipated."

Looking at the 2013 budget, the district had expected it would receive $2.3 million in assessments in 2012, but as of Monday, it had received $1.8 million, Hartley said.

Whether the district receives the remaining $500,000 by the end of December or before the foreclosure process on unpaid lots is instituted next February remains to be seen. The district anticipates losing revenue from around 1,000 lots in 2013, basing its projections of receiving income from 3,602 lots.

Asked whether those projections of uncollectible lots are based on what was collected in 2012, Hartley said no, they are based on "what we're forecasting as being non-collectible for 2013. These are not 2012 numbers."

He was unable to say exactly how the staff had come up with those figures, if not by looking at actual collections in 2012 by lot type.

"It is based upon the staff looking and their involvement with what their past experience of those lots are. It's kind of an incremental approach," he said. "It's what they're anticipating."

Hartley also discussed his golf course analysis, providing a chart showing expected revenue this year from golf alone, as well as expenses for both the 18- and 9-hole courses.

Estimated revenue for 2012 is $454,290, and expenses are $731,879. He expects expenses to increase in 2013 to $747,000, but revenue to decrease to $450,000.

The revenue figures don't include combined golf and recreation access cards, Graves pointed out, which should generate another $22,000.

Brown noted that every golf course he has visited is struggling, "whether municipal or private. We need to take in more money. The $246,000 (shortfall) is coming out of assessments."

"A lot of these operations will not be self-sustaining," Hartley said. "It's a matter of what ratio you want."

Ames suggested the possibility of leasing out the course and focusing the district on roads, water and sewer.

"This is a business," he said more than once, in reference to the budget.

Other commissioners spoke against outsourcing, Chairman Linda Griswold said there are not a lot of local resources to lease it to, and Graves said no one will take it on unless they can make a profit.

In other business, the board approved the October financial reports.

The board will hold two upcoming meetings: a special meeting on Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. to swear in a new commissioner and choose officers, and a regular meeting on Dec. 19 at 9 a.m., both at the district office. The Dec. 19 meeting will include discussion and possible action on the 2013 amenities.

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