D.A. Davidson & Co. came out on top in a Tuesday morning bidding session for the sale of $3 million in open space general obligation bonds narrowly approved by Lewis and Clark County voters two years ago.

The bond money will be available on Dec. 1 and must be paid back over 20 years with a 3.39 percent interest rate. The 2008 ballot initiative actually authorized the county to use $10 million in bonds for open space, water resource, agricultural and wildlife projects, but officials have decided to only use $3 million for now, since entering into the contracts places time constraints on using the money, said county Chief Administrative Officer Eric Bryson.

None of the bonds have been used so far, meaning assessments to pay for them have yet to show up on county real estate taxes. When they do, they’ll cost about $16.77 per $100,000 in assessed property value each year.

D.A. Davidson’s interest rate offer was the lowest of the five bids the county received. The others came from Raymond James & Associates, Robert W. Baird & Co., BMO Capital Markets and Wells Fargo Bank. The bids were submitted electronically, though they were verified with each firm before the final award was made, said Aaron Rudio, a county financial advisor from D.A. Davidson.

Finance Director Nancy Everson noted that Lewis and Clark County was awarded an AA rating from the financial company Standard & Poor’s. The designation is the second highest rating and indicates a “very strong capacity to meet financial commitments,” according to the company’s website.

The Lewis and Clark County Commissioners approved the bid award unanimously — Mike Murray and Andy Hunthausen via cell phone en route to a conference in Malta — and are scheduled to consider a resolution at their Thursday meeting that would levy taxes for the bond payments.

Everson and Bryson said they’ve heard about several open space project proposals that could come before the commission in the near future, though only one is under consideration at the moment. It is a request for $750,000 to allow the Conservation Fund to purchase a conservation easement for the 7,175-acre McDonough Ranch in Wolf Creek, located along the Rocky Mountain Front. The nonprofit plans to hold the easement until next spring, when it can be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

County staff has identified the project as meeting several purposes described in the bond measure, including water quality efforts, conservation of ranch and forest lands, protection of wildlife areas, and preservation of open lands.

The county is now in a due diligence phase of evaluating the proposal, Bryson said, determining whether the project would meet a range of specified conditions.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or allison.maier@helenair.com

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