GREENFIELD — The county commissioners have a laundry list of projects on which they may spend bond proceeds over the next few years, from body scanners and radios to upgrades of several county buildings.
Hancock County plans to issue a $5 million general obligation bond — funded through property taxes — before the end of the year. It could pay for renovations to Hancock County’s courthouse, annex, current jail and prosecutor’s office as well as new equipment for a few county departments.
John Jessup, president of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, said the bond will allow the county to catch up on projects they haven’t been able to budget for in past years and get ahead on future needs. The list of projects includes specific equipment, such as computers and radios, and it also broadly encompasses “other capital needs not pertaining to the construction of the county jail.”
Greg Guerrettaz, the county’s financial consultant, said the county is supposed to spend the bond proceeds within 24 months of issuance. He also said it could take no longer than 10 years for the county to pay off the $5 million bond.
In September, the Hancock County Council held a public hearing on the bond and approved the bond ordinance. The list of projects included in the ordinance, however, wasn’t the full list of needs the commissioners wanted, so Jessup asked the council last week to include a longer list in the ordinance.
The council then unanimously voted to include the addendum. Scott Benkie, county attorney, said he confirmed with bond counsel, Ice Miller LLP, that the council didn’t have to re-introduce the bond ordinance or hold another public hearing because of the larger list of capital improvement projects.
Benkie also said the $5 million bond will address projects that are independent of the county’s new 440-bed jail that’ll soon be under construction on a parcel of county-owned farmland along U.S. 40 between County Roads 400E and 500E.
“We have scrutinized this list to make sure that’s the case,” Benkie said.
Ray Richardson, the former county attorney of 50 years, previously told the Daily Reporter he thinks a May 2018 referendum pertaining to new criminal justice facilities was broadly written that improvements to the prosecutor’s office, courthouse, current jail and utility work at the county-owned farmland — all included in the list of projects attached to the new bond — fit under the same type of projects proposed through the referendum.
Voters turned down a $55 million property tax referendum that would’ve paid for “the construction, renovation and expansion of county Criminal Justice Center Complex facilities,” as stated in the ballot question. A new jail was set to be been in downtown Greenfield, and the county’s prosecutor’s office, community corrections facility and probation department would’ve all moved to different buildings.
State law says if a majority of voters oppose a property tax referendum, the county has to wait 700 days after the date of the public question or 350 days if a petition of 500 signatures is submitted to the county auditor to propose the project again. It’s been 527 days since May 8, 2018.
Jessup said the projects included in the bond would’ve existed even if the county wasn’t building a jail.
Before the commissioners knew the final cost of the jail — about $38 million — they had talked about using the bond proceeds on water and sewer infrastructure to service most of the county-owned farmland, along U.S. 40, surrounding the new jail site, and that’s also listed on the bond documents. Jessup said the commissioners now plan on paying for the utilities using local income tax dollars.
The county recently raised its income tax rate to 1.94%, which went into affect this month, and the county also plans to issue a $40 million revenue bond to get money sooner. Income tax dollars will pay off the bond.
Courtesy of the Greenfield Daily Reporter