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Revenue falls short, but capital plan moves ahead

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A projected $5.2 million shortfall in revenue could lead Georgetown County to delay or eliminate some of the projects called for in the first phase of its long-range capital improvement plan.

But that’s something County Council members will consider in the future, after projects at the top of the list are farther along, they decided this week. For now, they’re moving ahead as scheduled, with hopes of getting construction on the earliest projects, including a new recreation center in Parkersville and community center in Murrells Inlet, under way by early spring.

Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to enter into contracts with four design firms to continue engineering and design work for recreation facilities, as recommended by staff.

“Use the funds available to address the top priorities and just recognize that, at some future date, you will be making some decisions on how future dollars are spent depending on availability,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway advised.

The county has about $29 million for recreation projects in phase 1 of the plan, according to current revenue projections.

Steve Goggans, principal of SGA Architecture, the lead firm in charge of design and engineering work for recreation projects, said he’s optimistic costs will come in below estimates, allowing more projects on the list to be completed with available funding.

He isn’t surprised the projects came in over budget, he told council.

“We erred on the side of conservatism,” including a 10 percent contingency in estimates.

Also, changes in market conditions since estimates were given will probably bring prices down.

“I’m not sure we can bid the work for $29 million, Goggans said.

He estimates instead it will be between that and the current estimate, “but I believe in this market, there’s a lot of opportunity to achieve savings and you can get most of what you set out to do.”

The county’s contract with the design firms includes no penalties if projects have to be delayed or the scope of the plan is reduced.

“The county is treated fairly in every case,” Goggans said. “If we get to the end and yank out a ball field or two, and the budget and scope decreases, similarly, the work and scope of [the firm responsible for the project] and the fees and costs decrease.”

By entering into the contract now without eliminating projects to accommodate the shortfall, the county might end up paying for design and engineering work it won’t need in this phase, but the money won’t be wasted.

“Eventually you will build those facilities and you’ll have a good head start on the design documents when you do,” he said.

The shortfall is a result of declining projections in revenue from sources including impact fees, property taxes, accommodations and hospitality fees, and interest earnings, Hemingway said.

Since council’s last annual review of the plan in October 2009, council lowered impact fees, which were slated in the plan as a funding source to pay debt service. As a result, future bond issuances have been reduced or eliminated, Hemingway explained.

Fewer bonds mean lower interest earnings on bond proceeds.

As for property taxes and hospitality fees, those were lowered to reflect the “widely-held view that economic recovery will be slower than previously forecast,” Hemingway said. To help make up for the decline in revenue, changes were made in other areas of the plan.

A new Waccamaw library is still on track for construction in 2013-14, but a new library in Georgetown has been pushed into the second phase of the plan.

Reconfiguration of baseball and softball facilities in Andrews have also been moved into phase 2, and line items reserved for undetermined future projects have been removed in several areas of the plan.

Council will receive a more in-depth update on the plan at its Dec. 14 meeting, but Hemingway assured members that changes to the plan haven’t compromised its integrity.

Council members who opposed the contract were Ron Charlton and Leona Miller.

Charlton has consistently voted against the capital improvement plan. Miller said she opposed because there were “some health and safety issues” in her district she believes should be addressed before money is spent on parks.

Asked for specifics, Miller said Maria Drive needs to be paved. Dust from the road could be linked to health problems experienced by residents who live along the road, she said.

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