Two weeks can not pass fast enough for Port St. Joe city commissioners.
The board on Tuesday unanimously approved the most recent offer from Regions Bank for refinancing the city’s $15-plus million in long-term debt.
But the interest rate commissioners must pay, 3.41, remains a floating one until the deal closes, which should come in the next two weeks.
“We’ve reviewed this proposal and it is lowering the rate,” said Ralph Roberson of the city’s financial committee. “We are locked in for 15 years. There is no penalty (for refinance) after seven years.
“It’s as good a deal as we can get right now.”
During a public budget hearing Monday commissioners tabled a proposal from Regions that included an interest rate of 3.47 percent with a 15-year amortization.
That interest rate was above the 3.39 percent in the original offer for refinancing the city’s long-term debt.
“We can’t do that,” said Commissioner Rex Buzzett of the higher rate.
Regions returned with a new offer in time for Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting with the lower interest rate and the same 15-year term with no penalty for refinancing after seven years.
“Interest rates are about as low as they are likely to be for a while,” said City Manager Jim Anderson.
Roberson noted that the margin between 3.47 percent and 3.41 percent would represent a roughly $10,000 a month savings for city taxpayers.
In addition, Regions provided an index, a kind of sliding scale for broader interest rates which could impact the rate paid by the City Commission, which provides commissioners a cushion to work with if rates go up before closing.
“The worst case scenario if something crazy happens in the bond market, we don’t close,” Roberson said.
Commissioners have uniformly said if a deal with Regions is not favorable they will shop the refinancing in the market.
Further, city staff built and commissioners approved Monday a budget that was based on a slightly higher interest rate, allowing further cushion for commissioners in the next two weeks.
Refinancing the debt prior to December 2014 was critical.
In 2015 commissioners faced a balloon payment – the entire $15 million – with the current loan and annual interest rates would climb to over $1 million this year and next.
The refinancing will maintain the annual payments just above the current level. The annual payments will be $912,000.
“It looks like we got a pretty good deal provided we can get it done,” Buzzett said.
Commissioners approved the deal, which should close in two weeks, Anderson said, pending legal review.
Ghost on the Coast
Commissioners jumped on board an effort by Reid Avenue merchants and the Chamber of Commerce for assistance with candy for the annual Ghost on the Coast Halloween celebration.
At the request of the Chamber, notices will be placed in monthly water bills to solicit donations of candy. City staff will also establish a drop-off point for donations.
Downtown merchants spend hundreds of dollars on candy and other goodies for the annual celebration and have sought help the past several years to make the event a success for the children.
“We are trying to figure out to help the people downtown and the community,” Anderson said.
Yard debris amnesty month
Commissioners encourage citizens to take advantage of Road-Side Pick-up Amnesty Month during October as city staff will pick up larger amounts of yard debris, couches, certain large appliances and other items.
In essence, the city is expanding its yard debris pickup for October and doing so at no charge to citizens.
The city can not collect potentially dangerous items such as treated wood, paint, batteries, etc.
Residents are encouraged to visit www.cityofportstjoe.com for a complete list of items that will be collected.
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
Anderson said city staff and its engineers continue to review the two bids received for relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse into the city’s George Core Park without a final resolution.
Under normal bid rules, bids are good for 60 days.
Anderson said staff is trying to determine if money can be saved through value engineering and other methods to bring down the bid prices, which were roughly $200,000 above what the city has banked thus far for the relocation.
Anderson said he hoped to have a recommendation for commissioners at their next meeting in October.
Boat launch fees
Commissioners will hold a public workshop at 5 p.m. ET Oct. 15, prior to their next bi-monthly meeting, to discuss charging fees for use of the city boat ramp.
Commissioners encouraged all those who use the boat ramp and adjacent areas for trailer parking to attend and provide input.
The goal would be to charge a fee which would be placed in a fund earmarked for improvements to the boat ramp.