CHIPLEY — The Sunny Hills MSBU debate continued Wednesday as the Washington County Board of County Commissioners debated how much should be spent on mowing in the subdivision.
Commissioner Lynn Gothard brought up the proposed changes to the county’s Sunny Hills Municipal Service Benefit Unit at the board’s April workshop.
An MSBU is an ordinance-created tax district and is a “an area on a map,” County Attorney Jeff Goodman has said, and all responsibility for the MSBU area falls back on the board of commissioners.
At the Feb. 28 board meeting, Sal Zuricka presented to the commissioners the MSBU advisory board’s recommendation that all services to Sunny Hills be terminated and all incoming MSBU funds applied to the retirement of the $1.66 million debt.
The primary services the commissioners want to keep going for Sunny Hills are streetlights and mowing the right-of-ways on the main boulevards.
“We have been discussing changing the MSBU ordinance so that we can pay off the debt,” Gothard said.
Currently, the county collects $31.25 a year from residents and property owners within the MSBU, and that money is used to provide services to those living in Sunny Hills, as well as pay down the $1.66 million in debt — a loan that is not scheduled to be paid off until 2028.
Gothard said the debt could be paid off in 2016 if 80 percent of the MSBU revenues were paid toward retiring the debt. The remaining 20 percent could be applied to maintaining street lighting and lawn maintenance in Sunny Hills.
“If we kept lighting costs as they are, then that would take 6 percent of the budget,” Gothard said, “and that would leave 14 percent to pay for mowing.”
Gothard said the 14 percent amounted to about $64,000.
The revised MSBU ordinance would also delete all references to the MSBU Advisory Council.
Commissioner Charles Brock asked Goodman if the county could bypass the advisory council.
“The board is in control of that pot of money,” Goodman said. “The advisory council is exactly that, they give advice. But it is the board that is in charge.”
Goodman said he recommended the ordinance set percentages instead of amounts, which would result in a more transparent way of accounting for the expenditures of the MSBU’s funds. He also recommended selling off any MSBU assets and contracting for any lawn maintenance.
“Mainly, I am looking for direction from the board on how to proceed with this ordinance,” Goodman said. “I can paint you a picture, but I have got to know what it is you want me to paint before I begin.”
“If paying off the debt is the main goal, then we want to put as much as possible toward that payment,” Gothard said. If the $64,000 wasn’t enough to do all the mowing that is currently being done, then perhaps the amount of maintenance could be cut back, she added.
Chairman Alan Bush said he thought the board should get some bids so they can get an idea of what contracting the mowing out will cost before they decide on setting the percentages in the ordinance.
Brock asked where the 2016 pay-off date came from. Gothard said that she worked with county finance employees and, based on the MSBU’s average income, worked backward from there, determining that 2016 was the soonest the $1.66 million could be paid off, and that was putting 80 percent of the money toward debt retirement.
“That is just a date,” Bush said. “We could also set the goal for 2018, or 2020. But the idea was to pay it off as soon as possible.”
Commissioner Todd Abbott also suggested the county get some bids on the mowing, taking into account the portions of mowing that county employees will do twice a year in Sunny Hills.
“I think we should get bids for two or three options so we can get an idea of what we can spend on mowing,” Abbott said.