Re-vote on $5 million bond issue required after first vote was out of order

A $5.1 million bond issue was on Fayetteville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s (BOMA) agenda last Tuesday and although five of the six aldermen voted to approve the measure, the city attorney later notified board members that the vote was out of order. Therefore, a Special Organization Meeting is set for 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17 that will include another vote on the bond issue, as well as the swearing in of the newly-elected aldermen and the mayor will set all the board committees.

Alderman Danny Bryant made the motion to approve the bond issue - presented as Resolution 2020-12 – and was followed by discussion. Alderman Donna Hartman countered the motion by recommending no action be taken until the new aldermen come on board so they could vote on the resolution. She also suggested that other items of importance should be included in the bond issue, such as, building public restrooms and addressing the fire department’s fleet.

“We have just heard an update on the Master Plan that specifically states that it’s imperative a downtown has restaurants and public restroom in order to attract tourism and tour buses,” Hartman said. “And we have no plans to address the Fire Department’s fleet.”

She also expressed concern that the board, as a whole, had not sat down to discuss the bond issue before putting it forward for a vote.

Alderman Bryant interrupted by saying Public Works, Parks and Recreation, the Finance Department and other city employees have been working on the measure for the past four months. “If we start adding these things, it will bring the bond issue up to $7 million,” Bryant stated. “The way we worked these numbers won’t require a property tax increase. But if we’re going to take things off to add items or increase the bond issue, there will be a property tax increase.” He reiterated that that $5.1 million was “right on borderline” of a property increase.

“This is the first time the board has come together with a list,” Hartman stated. “We’re told, ‘here’s our shopping list,’ and we’re spending all this money. We want people to come to Fayetteville, but we don’t have restrooms.”

“I move to the previous question,” Bryant quickly interjected. A roll-call vote was taken with Bryant and Jeff Alder, who both serve on the Budget Committee, Vice Mayor Dorothy Small, Tonya Allen and Rachel Martinez voting yes; Hartman voted against its passage.

Bryant immediately questioned whether the motion had been seconded before the vote was taken. It was determined then that the bond issue had been approved. However, when City Attorney John Hill and recorder Pam Gentry reviewed minutes, it was determined Hartman’s motion to table the bond issue was the one on the table during discussion, not the bond issue. Her motion had not been seconded.

The bond issue had been discussed at the MOBA’s Work Session on Thursday, Nov. 5. However, Mayor Michael Whisenant and Hartman were attending a Leadership Conference and Martinez had to work.

During the Work Session, Finance Director Stacy Rozell said Cumberland Security will underwrite the bonds and that the State Comptroller has to sign off on it after making sure the city is financially able to make payments set out in the amortization schedule, as well as proposed projects and estimated costs. Once the State Comptroller signs off on it, nothing can be changed. Rozell said it would be January 2021 before the process is completed.

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State law requires that elected officials give the public 20 days to protest the issuance of bonds by signing a petition that requires 10 percent of the votes cast in the last election.

Bryant said during the Work Session that the city needs to address its old infrastructure and Alder said it was time to take care of things that previously haven’t been taken care of.

“Bonds are how we operate,” Bryant said, adding that the city has a good bond rating, has a strong fund balance and is “financially one of the strongest [municipalities] around.”

In September 2017, the city’s bond rating was upgraded from A+ to AA-, according to the finance director.

A $3 million bond issue was under consideration when initial talks began four months ago about what projects would be included in the bond issue. The number went to $4 million and rose to $5.1 million. The additional $100,000 goes to closing costs and other costs associated with acquiring these monies.

Later when City Administrator Scott Collins was questioned about the condition of the fire trucks, he said that all three are currently in service, adding that the city has been developing a fleet replacement plan that will be funded through Capital Improvements.

After the meeting, Hardman said when she came on the board two years ago, the fire trucks were in poor condition and their conditions have only worsened. “I am on the Police/Fire committee and not a word has been mentioned about a plan.”

She said earlier this year she had talked to Police Chief Richard Howell, who has been acting fire chief since June 11 when Fire Chief Jim Baldwin was dismissed, about the condition of the fire department’s equipment. “Chief Howell was astonished over the condition of the fleet,” she said, adding that the pumper truck had hydraulic problems; the big truck had to be sent to Nashville for repairs and the smaller truck was repaired locally.

“The bond issue includes $204,385 for soccer field lights and we do not have a soccer league,” Hartman said. “The children have all gone to South Lincoln to play. Lights are something we can take care of after a league is established and night games are necessary. Most soccer games are daytime play, but fire trucks are not necessary?”

She also said the bond issue wouldn’t have to be raised an addition $2 million to build public restrooms and purchase a fire truck. She estimated $500,000 for the cost of a fire truck and another $250,000 for public restrooms, suggesting that costs for soccer field lights could easily help fund the restrooms.