Greenville Plan: There's A Better Way
by Alex Saitta
December 12, 2006
My oath of office was simple, “... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this State. So help me God.” The Constitution, and the people it was designed to protect, are under assault in Pickens County, and I took my oath very seriously.
The Constitution says a school board can vote to borrow up to eight percent of the assessed value of the property in the school district. If the board wants to borrow more, it must be approved by a voter referendum. This protection is in the Constitution to prevent a school board from putting the people in debt up to their eyeballs, without their approval.
Last year Pickens County voters rejected $197 million in new borrowing. They opposed the fix-all-the-schools-at-one-time approach. Instead of returning with a referendum half the size, the board adopted the Greenville Plan. That is, board members Kevin Kay, James Brice, BJ Skelton, Shirley Jones, June Hay, and Herb Cooper voted to borrow $315 million; they’re not letting citizens vote on it and they’re still going to hand them the bill.
As a former bond analyst, I can tell you the Greenville Plan is not an innovative financing vehicle or a unique way to do things. It is a scheme.
The Constitution specifies, if the “school board” wants to put the people in all this debt, the voters must approve it. To get around the voters, the school board creates a dummy company and it borrows the money on behalf of the board. This way the school board can say, “We didn’t borrow the $315 million -- look, it is not on our books. Therefore, the board wasn’t required to let the people vote on it.”
The board says that even though it orchestrated the entire scheme and the people are on the hook for paying back all that borrowed money. You see, the dummy company doesn’t have any revenue, so the school board must make payments to the dummy company, which pass through this shell of a company and come out the other side as bond payments to the lenders.
We need to improve our facilities, but need does not justify adopting a scheme that takes away the people’s right to vote on all this debt.
If this was such a good idea, the six that support this plan, would be putting it to a referendum. This plan would be rejected by the people 3 to 1. As a result, those six board members are working to take away the vote of the people, forcing this plan on the people and handing them the bill any way.
There is a better solution, which will bring Pickens County together, rather than pull it apart.
First, the school board must start following the law and the intent of the law. The board serves the public and has to meet the highest standard, so it should stop hiring lawyers who specialize in schemes that go around the law.
The board must listen to the people. Last year’s 2 to 1 referendum defeat indicated the people want the schools renovated, but not luxuriously or all one time. Think about it, the fix has gone from $110 million in April 2005 to $315 million in the latest plan. The board must learn how to sometimes say “No, for now” or “No period”, and stop promising everything to everyone, for delivery today.
The board must stop working against the state government. For example, the legislature is trying to lower property taxes on homes. This plan raises property taxes a total of $587 million or $11,000 per household over the life of the plan.
The school board must better utilize the funds it is already collecting. The past ten years revenue growth has averaged seven percent a year, and enrollment has risen only half a percent a year. The board must start diverting some of that revenue growth to buildings.
Finally, the board should put a modest referendum on the ballot that renovates a third to half of the schools now and the rest later on. It took twenty years to create the facilities problem. It is unreasonable to think it will be solved overnight.