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Village Vision News

Village closes door on seeking repayment

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Forsyth also seeking new options for legal representation

In a 5-1 vote on Dec. 19, trustees voted against pursuing repayment of up to $25 million in sales tax revenues which Maroa-Forsyth School District used to build a new grade school. In addition, a plan was offered to rescind the one-half of one percent sales tax immediately upon the district’s pay off of the school bonds. In 2007, the Village passed an ordinance to increase the sales tax by a half percent and use the funds generated for the school’s construction. At issue between the two entities was the fact that an agreement for the school district to repay the sales tax funds was planned but never executed.

Instead, Village Administrator Heather Kimmons will seek a commitment from the school board that the district will priortize retiring the construction bonds early, while offering regular reports on the progress of the payments.

“We have that obligation with the cooperation of the school board … to make an honest effort to retire these bonds early,” said trustee Bob Rasho, whose motion also included suspension of discussions pertaining to future land purchases by the school district until the commitments have been accepted.

“Bob [Rasho] has laid the groundwork for a reasonable compromise,” said Mayor Hap Gilbert. School board officials have until Jan. 17 to respond, on which date Village trustees will meet at a regularly scheduled session.

Trustees said the Village is not saying it won’t sell the district more land in a conventional manner, but simply that it is not interested in getting involved in another financing “deal.” The school district has expressed an interest in building a new middle school in the future near the land it purchased for the grade school.

Trustee Eric Morr voted against Rasho’s proposal and said he was “… still interested in holding out for compromise.” He suggested ending the Village’s transfer of the half percent of sales tax revenues slightly earlier than planned and let the school district “…plan for a $4 million payback” for the bonds which will be retired in 2028 at their current payment schedule. Trustee Steve Hubbard said this move would be counter to the 2007 referendum which approved raising the sales tax for use in building the new school.

The lack of the presence of either school board members or officials at the meeting was not surprising to Rasho, who said that it was clear to him that their prevailing attitude is “... we’re done, we got what we wanted, now move on.”

Community members offered their opinions. “Who was deceived? Was it the Village board, or was it voters?” asked Charles Frey of 624 Cortez Drive. Kevin Breheny of 847 Jasons Way said the “…$15 to $25 million mistake could have gone [to improve] streets and roads.” He said the integrity of selling the referendum has come into question, and it is embarrassing for Forsyth residents to witness what is either an “…egregious administrative mistake or some duplicity going on – it’s one way or the other.”

The unsigned intergovernmental agreement between the Village and the school district perplexed several residents, including Leo Morland of 765 Schroll Court, Don Van Lyssel of 857 Cara Chris Lane, Mike Lambdin of 538 Lucas Lane and Julie Lakshmanan of 80 Hickory Point Court. Morland said the school district used the four-year delay in signing the document to their advantage against the Village with Village Attorney Darrell Woolums lacking the professionalism needed for execution of the document. Van Lyssel, a former trustee, said failure to execute the document in a timely manner rests with both the mayor and the attorney, both of whom were present when school officials assured trustees during a May 2007 closed session that “…the repayment process was taking place.” Lambdin questioned the mayor as the “mastermind” behind the failure. Said Lambdin: “You’ll never get Hap’s [Mayor Gilbert] resignation, but you can do something about the attorney. Something was wrong legally.” Lakshmanan simply said, “The attorney needs to be fired … the Village needs to hire competent counsel.”

Prior to the vote on Rasho’s motion and before going into closed session to discuss a personnel matter, Rasho commented that he has worked to solve problems, not to look for blame. “I’m not in a position to ask the mayor to do anything,” he said. He followed with a call for the Village attorney however “…to be responsible for his actions because he is paid staff.”

The 40-minute closed session ended with a unanimous vote following a motion by trustee Hubbard to direct Kimmons to send out a request for qualifications (RFQ) to the Village’s current law firm, Samuels Miller, and other law firms of her choice, seeking bids to represent the Village. Kimmons was asked to gather and review the responses quickly and to communicate her recommendations to Mayor Gilbert before the Jan. 2 Board meeting. The mayor will ultimately select legal counsel to represent the Village with an announcement expected to be made that same evening.

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