Buckhannon City Recorder Randy Sanders and Mayor Robbie Skinner at council's Thursday, Dec. 15 meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

City signs agreement with outside bond counsel as it prepares to finance SYCC addition

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon has enlisted Steptoe & Johnson as bond counsel as city officials prepare to finance the Stockert Youth & Community Center’s new multipurpose building.

At council’s Dec. 15 meeting, mayor Robbie Skinner reported that the city’s Building Commission had met earlier in the week.

“You’ll recall at the last council meeting we appointed the Building Commission to start the process for the financing portion of the new Stockert Youth & Community Center building, so that board was sworn in and then met last night here with myself, Mr. Sanders, Amby Jenkins, (Steptoe & Johnson attorney) Tom Aman and (Buckhannon city attorney) Tom O’Neill,” Skinner said. “We had a good discussion and gave the board some background on the project, and we took care of the line items, and tonight, one of those line items was the execution of the engagement letter with Steptoe & Johnson. So if you’ll recall, we did this exact same exercise when we purchased the Mud Lick property for our new street garage.”

Skinner said Aman with Steptoe & Johnson previously served as the city’s bond counsel when it was financing the purchase of the new Street Department facility on Mud Lick Road across from the Waste Transfer Department.

“So, tonight we need the council’s approval to support what the Building Commission did, which was the chairperson signed the letter, and I’ll need your approval this evening to allow me to sign the letter to engage Steptoe & Johnson and Tom Aman as our bond counsel,” he said.

City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins explained why the city must engage outside counsel.

“We’ve used Steptoe & Johnson in the past, and we need bond counsel because according to state code, council cannot indebt the city for more than a year at time,” Jenkins said. “So for these types of bond loans, we have to go through a bonding process. Steptoe & Johnson’s very familiar with it. They do an excellent job; they hold our hands through the whole process and we can feel confident that it’s going to be done properly if they’re doing it.”

Jenkins said the city has submitted a pre-application for grants and/or low-interest loans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Then we’re also going to [talk with] the local banks as well, if they want to compete with any of that,” she said.

Skinner said the ground-breaking on the project might be somewhat later than anticipated due to uncertainty surrounding the availability of federal funding for the USDA.

“We had anticipated hoping to finalize all this work and break ground in early spring, but it might be later spring by the time the USDA [grants or loans] shakes out,” Skinner said. “But we certainly want to make sure that we pay attention to the USDA, because their rating structure does not follow the interest rates that the federal government is increasing for the private banks.”

The city utilized a local bank for financing when purchasing the Mud Lick Street Department property because USDA interest rates and private banks’ interest rates were comparable at the time. Skinner said that’s since changed.

“That’s not the same anymore,” he said. “We’re kind of around 7-8 percent on the private bank side and the USDA loan rates are still around 3.84 percent, but we like to do business locally, so we’ll do our due diligence and see if we can secure a good rate. With a large project like this, there’s flexibility in rate.”

Councilman Jack Reger made a motion to approve the agreement for engagement with Steptoe & Johnson as the city’s legal bond counsel. Councilwoman Pam Bucklew seconded the motion prior to it passing unanimously.

Council also unanimously approved Resolution 2022-10 regarding reimbursement from proceeds of bonds to be issued by the city’s Building Commission for expenditures in connection with the design, acquisition, construction and equipping of improvements and additions to the city’s Stockert Youth & Community Center made prior to the issuance of tax-exempt lease revenue bonds or other obligations.

City recorder Randy Sanders made a motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by councilman CJ Rylands prior to passing unanimously.

Prior to adjourning, council also appointed Bucklew to the Buckhannon Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.

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