The Lamar County Commissioners’ Court took a historic step Thursday when they voted to move forward with issuing a public notice of intention for an up to $6.6 million certificate of obligation for capital improvements.
“I would love to say it would work for me, but it just won’t,” Commissioner Lonnie Layton told The Paris News on Monday.
Commissioner Kevin Anderson is on the other side of the spectrum.
“When it comes to doing what I feel is the right thing to help the people in Lamar County, I don’t have any reservations about moving forward with this,” he said in an email.
The commissioners and County Judge Brandon Bell went back and forth Thursday, with Commissioner Ronnie Bass the main voice in favor of the CO, which would be the largest is county history, Bell said.
“It was a healthy debate, and I never get mad because of a difference of opinion,” Bell said. “But this is uncharted waters for us.”
Bell and Layton voted against moving forward the CO, while Bass, Anderson and Commissioner Alan Skidmore voted in favor of it. Bell’s main hang up, he said, is taking on debt.
“We have never borrowed that much before,” he said.
The money from the CO would be dedicated to capital improvements, which would include repairs to county buildings, like the courthouse and jail, but namely roads. The county roads have been a source of stress for the commissioners for years as many of them have fallen into disrepair, and Anderson said now is the time to invest in long-term improvements. For him and Bass, that means using money from the CO to purchase equipment to repair the roads.
“There is a great need for infrastructure improvement here, and our county roads are the biggest infrastructure we have and actually get the least amount of money dedicated toward them,” Anderson said. “It is time that we try to move forward to give something back to the people.”
Layton, who is in charge of Precinct 2, said while he agrees that county property is in need of work, the equipment other commissioners are interested in wouldn’t do him any good in his region of the county.
“It would be a waste of money for me,” he said.
To try and quell worries about impending debt should the CO come into play, Bass said the county could rely on tax money from multiple solar farms being built in the area. Several of them are already under construction and have agreed to give the county money per kilowatt, which, Bass said, could help pay off the CO in a matter of years.
Layton and Bell had
“You can’t bank on something you don’t have,” Layton said.
“I’d much rather have the money in hand,” Bell added, saying he’d rather take from the general fund than take out a CO.
Bass and Anderson had a rebuttal Monday.
“To me, when the construction starts, it’s pretty obvious that they’re coming, you know what I’m saying? They’re not gonna put stuff in the ground that they’re not gonna use,” he said.
“It occurred to me months ago that with the money coming in from our solar farm program that we need to do something with this money to give back to the people of Lamar County and with added infrastructure needs, this seemed like a way that we could get a lot of these needs taken care of at once,” Anderson said in agreement.
Bass said he’s willing to meet Bell and Layton in the middle by lowering the $6.6 million number on the CO, with the catch that they need to aim somewhat higher than what they think they’ll need because once they’ve declared a certain amount, they can’t go above it.
“There’s not a number I’d be interested in,” Layton said.
Moving forward, the commissioners and Bell will need to put a notice in the newspaper to let the community know about their intention to move forward with a CO. As the process moves forward, Bass said he’s hoping the commissioners can work together to come to a common solution.
“These repairs aren’t wants, they’re needs,” he said. “And we have to do something about it.”