City commission chooses 30-year bonds over bank financing

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Image taken from the video

On Wednesday, three commissioners, including Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, left, Terrye Howell, and Mayor Gene Fultz heard a presentation from Finance Representative Will Reid (R) of Ford and Associates and City Chief Financial Officer Dorothy Abbott. The three agreed to seek 30-year bonds to borrow $18.5 million, the largest financial package the city had ever considered.

With some $4 million in interest payments tied to the decision, three city commissioners instructed staff at Wednesday’s workshop to seek a 30-year bond rather than short-term bank loans to fund the $18.5 million for the Lake Wales Connected plan.

The largest action ever taken by the City of Lake Wales or its related community redevelopment agency, the huge investment aims to breathe new life into the venerable heart of the city, including the North West Quarter. The plan will take several years to materialize. Construction documents are nearing completion for the two largest phases of the project, involving Park Avenue and First Street.

Mayor Eugene Fultz, Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson and Commissioner Terrye Howell listened to the presentation and offered a recommendation to staff. The non-binding advice offered by the trio was delivered in the absence of commissioners Jack Hilligoss and Daniel Williams, who did not attend the meeting.

The article was presented as part of the Workshop for Guidance to City Bond Consultants, Ford and Associates. The ARC currently receives over $2.2 million each year in city and county revenue from the defined district. This revenue stream will be used to pay down the debt.

The city’s chief financial officer, Dorothy Abbott, argued strongly for the more expensive 30-year bonds, saying the alternative would leave the CRA “only about $600,000” each year “for 20 years” to pay d other projects or expenses. “You can starve yourself,” she added.

Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson disputed that assessment, saying it took into account neither tax base growth nor inflationary increases in property values, which have risen about 19% over the past 12 last months. The plan is expected to boost private sector investment, an effect already underway.

Using bonds will cost more upfront, a figure Abbott estimated at $250,000 rather than the $100,000 cost of bank financing. The remainder of the cost increase reflects interest in the longer period.

In the end, Reid also gave his lukewarm endorsement of the 30-year bonds after admitting there were few banks willing to do a 20-year municipal loan deal. Rising interest rates, due in part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have already increased the long-term costs of the project.

The award-winning Connected plan includes several elements ranging from new pathways and sidewalks to complete reconstructions of nearly 20 city blocks of streets. This is the region’s most ambitious urban renewal effort ever. The Community Redevelopment Agency recently extended its life for another 30 years to fund future investment in the neighborhoods.

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