In an about-face from its its previous meeting, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the issuance of tax-exempt revenue refunding bonds of up to $13 million for the School for Arts-Infused Learning, a charter school in Evans.
The resolution had been presented to the board on Dec. 7 to authorize the issuing of the revenue bonds to SAIL School, to be overseen by the Development Authority of Columbia County. District 1 Commissioner Connie Melear moved to deny the request, noting difficulty justifying approval of the bond to residents.
“I don’t think I can explain to my constituents in a convincing way that we’re not on the hook to the Development Authority,” Melear said in the Dec. 7 meeting. “That our government is not on the hook, for $13 million.”
In that vote, Melear and Commissioner Gary Richardson voted to disapprove while Chairman Doug Duncan and Commissioner Dewey Galeas voted to approve. Because Commissioner Don Skinner was absent, there were not enough votes for either approval or disapproval, and the motion died.
On Dec. 21, however, with no discussion, both Melear and Richardson joined other members in a unanimous vote in favor of the resolution when it was brought back to the board’s agenda. Skinner was present and also voted in favor, as did Duncan and Galeas.
The purpose of the bonds is to refinance the outstanding principal of a loan from October 2017 for the purchase of the school’s campus and facilities at Blanchard Wood Drive.
Because of a requirement in the IRS tax code that an “applicable elected representative” of the county approve the issuing of private activity bonds, the Development Authority needed the Board of Commissioners to vote to authorize the issuance of the bond, the amount of which the county is not responsible for.
The board unanimously approved the request for a major PUD revision for property at 1000 West Lake Commons Dr.
RB Capital Investments and West Lake Commons submitted the PUD revision request on Aug. 20 for a development of 31,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. New locations for Swank and Posh are among the proposed establishments for the development.
The Planning Commission approved the revision during its Oct. 7 meeting after having tabled it from Sept. 16. The Board of Commissioners voted twice to table the request from Nov. 2 and Oct. 19 before reaching a final decision.
The board also unanimously approved a new contract between the county and ambulance provider Gold Cross.
The new contract, which will supersede the previous agreement Gold Cross had with the county, calls for an increase in the annual subsidy from $700,000 to $850,000. To cover this increase, from Jan. 1, 2022 through June 30, the resolution for the contract also includes a budget transfer of $75,000 to the emergency medical services budget.
The motion also included the application of $500,000 in CARES Act funding toward the purchase of three quick-response vehicles.
The board also offered special recognition to Sherriff Clay Whittle who was named 2021 Sheriff of the Year by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. Board Chairman Doug Duncan noted Whittle’s service since his election in 1995 and the decrease in reported crime.
“We’ve almost doubled in population, yet the crime has gone consistently down,” said Duncan. “That’s in large part due to what you’ve done for this county.”
County Manager Scott Johnson was also recognized for having received the Pillars of Excellence Award from the Georgia City County Managers Association.