Capping Shelton’s bond issue series

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth and final installment of a multi-part series of interviews conducted between Courier staff reporter Nicole Daughhetee and SDPC board trustee Jim Shelton, a former board chair.

“When you roll all those things together, when you roll in the ongoing projects, when you roll in Gettys, you come up with $9.15 million that was the total cost of the bond,” explained SDPC board trustee Jim Shelton.
As with so many other things in life, the circumstances surrounding the bond issue are not black and white. There is always grey area, and, as Shelton continues to impart, various other elements that came into play during the discussions leading up to the adoption of the $9.15 million bond.
“Looking at the construction part of all this, as a board we took some things into consideration that I had heard from other people in the past who said that this is how we should have approached the building plan in the first place,” he said. “That approach is to pay as you go.
“As we speak, sitting here in March of 2012, that $9.15 million bond is paid off. Did you know that?” Shelton inquires of me. “That debt is gone. It has been paid. Thus we’ve satisfied the first condition: ‘pay as you go.’”
The second condition board members took under consideration was the concept of renovation as opposed to building brand new from the ground up. The third was utilizing existing resources and making the most out of those valuable assets the SDPC has at its disposal.
“What are we doing with both Gettys and the new Easley Middle School (the old EHS)?” he asked. “We’re renovating rather than building new. We have made maximum use of our existing resources. We have been very creative with this whole thing.”
That, Shelton said, brings us to the fourth concern throughout this process: “Have we minimized the impact to the taxpayers?”
According to Shelton, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Here come the numbers, in Shelton’s own words and explanations, which I will attempt not to butcher, as numbers — you all know — have never been my forte.
“There was a lot of misinformation from people out there, and they know who they are, that said taxes are going to go up by 10 percent,” said Shelton. “There’s no other way to say it, but that this was just an outright lie.
“When we pulled together the bond issue, I personally worked with Frannie Heizer from the McNair Law Firm and the bonds broker from Ross, Sinclair and Associates, to put certain conditions into the $9.15 million bond,” he said. “One of the conditions I put in there was that whereever this bond was going to go, and this was language I insisted upon, if there were ever a fluctuation in value, the costs would never exceed 58 mills.”
Why did Shelton insist on putting the 58 mills in there?
“It was in there as a stop-gap,” he explained. “In other words, the money collected or the debt assessed could never go above 58 mills knowing full well that the way the bonds were constructed, based on what’s called zero growth, we were not anticipating any other valuation to the mill because we made it static to the previous year. When the millage value goes up, then the number of mills goes down. We had every reason to believe that’s what would happen. And it did happen.”
“The other reason we put 58 in there was because when the Greenville Plan passed in 2006, they maxed out the available debt millage, which at that time was 58 mills,” he said. “I consider that to be a psychological tolerance. To exceed 58 mills — that’s what we had done four years prior, even though the value of each individual mill — or a mill — had actually increased.”
In Shelton’s mind, 58 mills was the barrier — the limit. As people have a want to spin information in one particular direction or another to suit their personal or political agendas, Shelton believes that there some people out there who, upon reading through the bond conditions, said “Ah-Ha! 10 percent increase.”
Simply put, Shelton says “No. That’s not what it was at all.”
“The actual millage that came back to satisfy that debt was a total of 54 mills. Remember we had refinanced something, so we cut the millage in half, which meant what?” he asked. “Had we done nothing, the tax would have been at 55 mills. We did something — all these things that are in there — and the millage actually went down. By one. How is that a tax increase?”
“The increase from year to year went from 52 to 54. A two mill increase. If we did nothing, the millage would have risen from 52 to 55. A three mill increase,” said Shelton. “So, we were able to accomplish all these projects, all these things I’ve already mentioned, and we satisfied the fourth condition — minimize the impact to the tax base.”
Shelton proudly pointed out again that, as we spoke right then, in March of 2012, that debt has already been paid. It is no longer an encumbrance on Pickens County. It is not, was not, long-term debt. It is not, was not, uncontrollable spending.
“We had very specific things put into place. We said that, and we made it very clear to the public.
“I have a hard time with people who go out and make these false claims of 10 percent tax increases, out-of-control spending, and do that, I suppose, for ulterior motives. The four elements we have here were very conservative elements,” said Shelton. “I think this was an excellent job to be quite honest with you. So we put these plans in place.”
Shelton maintains that the idea of shifting attendance lines and routing more students into Dacusville was, personally, his first choice, being from Dacusville and representing Dacusville, but also representing East End and Crosswell.
“I thought that being able to offer more services and more programs in Dacusville would benefit the students in that community. The people in the community did not agree with me. That’s not what they wanted me to do,” he said. “So, I listened to the constituents in that regard. I certainly wasn’t going to take that one and shove it down their throat. That wasn’t the right thing to do. Instead, we’ve satisfied a long-standing requirement in the Easley community, and that is the realization of two middle schools.”