This week, we speak with Interim Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne about the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, which provides an outline for the county’s future capital needs. The …
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This week, we speak with Interim Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne about the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, which provides an outline for the county’s future capital needs. The current plan addresses needs for the period beginning in the year 2020.
Dan came to work with Chatham County in 2010 as director of Waste Management (now called Solid Waste & Recycling). In July 2011, the new budget combined several environmental functions within a new department. Dan was selected to lead the new Environmental Quality Department which included Solid Waste and Recycling. He then took over the position of Public Works and Utilities Director while still keeping all of the duties of the Environmental Quality Department. After Renee Paschal became county manager in November 2015, she picked Dan to be the Assistant County Manager. The Board of Commissioners named him Interim County Manager, as of October 1, 2018, when Renee retired.
Dan has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from NC State University where he graduated magna cum laude. He is certified as a Professional Engineer by the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors.
Prior to coming to Chatham, worked in both the private sector with Griffin Brothers Companies and previously with and with Wake County as manager of facilities and operations for solid waste in the Environmental Services Department. He also had worked with the Town of Apex as Environmental Programs Manager, three years as Branch head in the Superfund Section for the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and two years as a project engineer for Trigon Engineering Consultants Inc.
He and his wife have two daughters
What exactly is a Capital Improvements Program, and what all does it entail?
The CIP is a long-term plan for funding the County’s major capital needs. It shows how facilities, equipment, and other projects that cost $100,000 or more could be scheduled and funded over the next seven years, beginning in FY 2020.
It is important to state upfront that this is a plan, not a budget, since a budget controls the actual spending of allocated funds. Staff attempts to be as accurate as possible, but it is difficult to estimate project costs exactly, particularly early in the planning process. Bids for projects may come in higher or lower than originally planned. Before funds can be spent, they must be budgeted through the operating budget or, in most cases, through a separately adopted project ordinance. The same is true for operating costs. As facilities are being planned, staff attempts to identify operating costs, such as staffing and utilities. The cost of these items depends on final square footage and operational issues that may not be apparent until the facility is far along in planning.
A large chunk of the CIP is education-related projects for both Chatham County Schools and Central Carolina Community College. Could you give us a rundown of those projects?
For Chatham County Schools:
One topic you highlighted in a recent board meeting was a new project to upgrade the county’s emergency communications system. Why is that an important upgrade, as well as expanding the Emergency Operations Center?
The radio system upgrade is necessary because the existing VHF/UHF radio system is approximately 30 years old. Interoperability with other counties and agencies is limited due to disparate radio systems. The system will be upgraded to a P25 700/800 MHz system and connect to the NC VIPER radio system. Three new tower sites will be built.
The Emergency Operations Center expansion is needed because the existing building was completed in 1994 and the communications room was originally built to hold only 4 telecommunicator consoles. Since that time, the number of consoles has increased to six, with one of those being placed in a corner of the EOC meeting room because the communications room is full. Expansion is required to accommodate growth, and scheduling the project to coincide with the radio system upgrade will offer efficiencies and cost effectiveness.
There are some “future” projects in the CIP. What are those and how are they different from projects already listed?
Future projects are projects where the County lacks sufficient data, revenue, or debt capacity to schedule them. If these issues are resolved, these projects may be added to future CIPs.
A few of the more notable future projects identified in this CIP are:
Developing a long-term master plan that will address long-term space needs for county buildings currently at the government annex campus in downtown Pittsboro, while being responsive to the desire for a clear vista between the Justice Center and the Historic Courthouse that would contribute to a vibrant downtown setting. A concept plan was presented to the Board of Commissioners and more work is needed to solidify the plan.
Expanding the current Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center (CCACC) to include Phase II additions, including a multi-purpose event arena, outdoor classroom space, farmers’ market venue, office space, demonstration plots and storage buildings.
Building a new elementary school at Chatham Park. During the next ten years, the current Northwood attendance zone is projected to grow by almost 1,900 students. More than 600 of these students are expected to be generated by Chatham Park. We will need to construct schools in Chatham Park to meet the projected growth in population. We will be monitoring student growth projections and Chatham Park buildout on an annual basis and schedule this project accordingly.
The CIP’s total is in excess of $211 million. Could you explain the county’s use of LOB (limited obligation bonds) to fund projects, as well as other funding sources – and of course any potential impact on the county’s ad valorem tax rate?
Our financial policy, which is reviewed every year by the commissioners at their retreat in January, includes a section on debt. It states the following: “Debt is an important tool for financing capital facilities. Over-reliance on debt, however, is negatively perceived by bond rating agencies. The County should exhaust all possible resources, such as grants and pay-as-you-go funding, before borrowing funds. Debt should only be used for the construction of capital facilities and the purchase of capital assets.”
Coupled with the establishment of a formal debt funding model, the County has created the means to evaluate and plan appropriately for future debt funded capital needs and to examine options that create the least impact on the County’s financial strength and taxpayers. The funding model was first established in 2005. When new debt-funded projects are considered, they are entered into the funding model to establish impact on taxpayers. We also have a pay-as-you-go reserve fund. These funds have been used for projects such as school capital improvements and the upcoming improvements to the animal shelter.
As noted in the CIP presentation, an additional one-and-a-half cents will need to be contributed to the debt model to accomplish the radio system upgrade, Emergency Operations Center expansion and the Chatham County Schools Central Services Building construction projects. During preparation of the next budget, we will determine if a tax increase will be needed.