Lewis and Clark County staff confirmed last week the sale of $6.5 million in general obligation bonds offered to fund renovation of the entire Breckenridge Street Law Enforcement Center into jail space.
County finance director Nancy Everson said the sale went through Wednesday to investment firm D.A. Davidson & Co. of Great Falls with a true interest cost of 3.42 percent. Over 34,000 county voters cast ballots on the proposed bond offering in 2016, generating approval by a margin of just 76 votes. A second vote the following November approved by a much wider margin a 15-year levy to operate the renovated Lewis and Clark County Detention Center.
“It has taken several years to reach this point and this is one more step forward in the progress we are making,” said Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Susan Good Geise in a Friday press release announcing the sale. “We look forward to a final product designed to assist law enforcement in the good work they do and to help keep our community safe.”
On Nov. 9, Standard & Poor’s assigned the county’s general obligation bonds an “AA” long-term rating, which designates a seller’s ability to repay as “very strong.” S&P cited the county’s “adequate” economy and management and “very strong” liquidity and debt position in assigning the rating, its second-highest behind “AAA.”
With the sale, county homeowners will begin paying against levied debt service for the jail's operation in fiscal 2020, which begins July 1. In November, Everson said work with bond counsel led the county to forgo levying $196,000 in debt service on the operations levy for fiscal 2019.
At the county’s level of taxable property value for the current fiscal year, taxpayers inside and outside incorporated cities can expect debt service to raise property taxes by approximately $6.22 on a property with $100,000 in taxable value in fiscal 2020, Everson said. That number is subject to change depending on whether the county’s taxable value rises or falls before July 1.
County taxpayers incurred a property tax increase of $12.70 on properties with $100,000 in taxable value on the jail operations levy in fiscal 2019. Everson said that amount covered diversion services and the hiring of 15 new detention officers.
The detention center was originally built in 1984 with 43 beds and 15 more available for spikes in detention. It held 98 inmates as of Saturday morning, with 19 others being held at other detention facilities. The planned renovations will bring capacity from the current 80 inmates to 156.
Before renovation of the Law Enforcement Center begins, the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office must relocate to the new Law and Justice Center on Fuller Avenue. Baltz said Friday that project contractor Sletten Construction Service of Great Falls has targeted Jan. 18 for the property to be issued a certificate of occupancy.