Harford to borrow $50 million, part for new Havre de Grace secondary school

Harford County government is preparing to borrow $50 million next month to fund a variety of capital improvement projects, including school and government building repairs, new schools, water and sewer construction projects and road and bridge repairs.

A resolution authorizing the sale of the consolidated public improvement bond issue of 2018 was introduced at Tuesday evening’s County Council meeting.

The resolution sets in motion a process which will culminate Jan. 23, 2018, when the county receives electronic sealed bids from underwriters and completes the bond sale to the bidder offering the lowest interest rate.

The $50 million covers some 75 individual projects; however, almost $29.7 million is for just two projects, the completion of the new Youth’s Benefit Elementary School replacement building in Fallston ($7.8 million) and a new Havre de Grace High and Middle school building ($21.9 million).

On Dec. 4, the Harford County Board of Education awarded final design and construction contracts totaling $81.6 million for the Havre de Grace school project. Those contracts must also approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works, since the state will contribute about 25 percent of the project cost. The board is expected to vote Jan. 10.

A spring groundbreaking is expected, with completion in 2020, according to Harford County Public Schools officials.

The Youth’s Benefit project is largely complete. The final section of the new building, housing upper grades, was occupied in November. The total project cost is about $37.1 million, according to HCPS.

For large, expensive building projects, the county typically sells bonds in stages, since not all the money is needed at once, thus saving some interest costs, county finance officials have said.

The bonds being sold next month cover projects that have received prior budget authorization, as well as bonding authorization from the council, according to Council President Richard Slutzky. As a result, the council does not need to hold a public hearing on Monday’s resolution, which Slutzky said is “not a legislative act.” It will take effect once the council approves the bond sale bid during a special meeting on the afternoon of Jan. 23.

The resolution sets up the bid procedure and names the bond paying agent and covers other legal particulars, John Devine, the county’s bond counsel explained.

The bonds will be sold at 30-year maturities and will have their credit rating assigned a few days prior to the sale.

County Treasurer Robert Sandlass Jr. said the county received the top AAA rating for its last bond sale from the three major rating agencies. The county borrowed $55 million in February 2017, paying an average interest rate of 2.78 percent.

Slutzky said the high credit rating reflects the county’s “positive balance sheet” and is “a manifestation of fiscal responsibility in Harford County government.” Good credit ratings mean lower interest rates, Slutzky said, which in turns saves for the county and its taxpayers.

In addition to the two school projects, some of the other projects funded by the upcoming bond sale include circuit courthouse repairs ($650,000), Wheel Creek watershed restoration ($506,000), Prospect Mill Elementary HVAC replacement ($1.1 million), athletic field improvements ($2.1 million), Bush Creek sewage pumping station upgrades ($1.7 million) and the next phases of the Bynum Run parallel sewer line ($4.4 million).

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