The School Board of Manatee County approved a resolution authorizing the issuance of up to $150 million in sales tax revenue bonds at Tuesday evening’s board meeting.
Revenue from the sale of the bonds primarily will be used to pay for construction and renovation of schools in the district, according to documents provided to board members.
The resolution passed 4-0 with board member John Colon recusing himself because his employer, Wells Fargo, is involved in the transaction.
“Because of the massive growth we are experiencing, we are going to need a high school, elementary school and middle school in three years,” Superintendent Diana Greene said. “I am very confident we are doing the right thing.”
District officials are planning a new 2,000-student high school in Parrish at a cost of $80 million, a new 823-student elementary school at a cost of $20 million and a new 1,164-student middle school at a cost of $45 million on the east side of the county.
I am very confident we are doing the right thing.
Superintendent Diana Greene
Greene addressed citizens who wanted the district to use revenue from the newly reinstated impact fees to build the new schools. She said the impact fees could not cover the immediate need to build three new schools because impact fee revenue comes in smaller chunks annually. To begin construction the district needed the total amount up front, she said.
“If we are going to bond, now is the time to bond money,” said district Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts. “We are practically doubling our debt, but we are better leveraged than most of our like-sized districts.”
The district anticipates it will owe roughly $12.9 million in debt service annually once the bonds are issued. The bonds will mature in 2032, and the district will begin making payments on the principal in 2018.
Colon, who sold bonds on Wall Street prior to moving to Florida, said the current bond market is friendly — especially for government infrastructure projects.
If we are going to bond, now is the time to bond money.
Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts
“This is one of the best times to borrow money for school districts,” Colon said.
Colon had voiced concerns at the Jan. 10 board meeting over conservative projections of enrollment growth presented by executive planner Mike Pendley. But on Tuesday, Colon said he had no problem with the district limiting its borrowing to $150 million, even if greater capital needs present themselves down the road.
Board member Gina Messenger initially questioned the wisdom of increasing the district’s debt so substantially, but she eventually voted yes on the resolution.
Voters approved an extension for the school district’s half-cent sales tax on election day in November. The sales tax was first implemented in 2002, and it brings in about $30 million annually.
Now that the resolution has passed, the district can move forward with issuing bonds. Officials hope to close on the sale in mid to late February.