New HFR station gets green light from Town Board

With a guaranteed maximum price of $6,897,000 for the construction of the new fire station on the corner of Oak and Main streets, and with contractors lined up and ready to go, pending weather, Highlands will have a new Fire Station in about 14 months.

At the Sept. 17 Town Board meeting, commissioners OK’d the terms regarding the project that includes the guaranteed price, the ability for the town to review bids that are received at each construction phase, and to pick the contractors.

Financing is with BB&T for a loan of $8.5 million which includes $7 million for the contract and $1.5 million to pay back the electric reserve fund whose money was used to purchase the land from Jane Woodruff. 

The 20-year amortization schedule at 2.7% interest shows the first debt service payment due the beginning of 2021 of $658,000 – over the course of the loan, payments will drop to $12,000. 

Town Manager Josh Ward said payments of the loan can be covered with the Fire Department annual budget with approximately $56,000 surplus remaining. 

The recent fire tax increase resulted in an increase in revenue of approximately $670,000 for a total revenue of $1.05 million. That plus Jackson County’s annual donation of $50,000 equaled $1,100,000 for FY19/20.

However, Jackson County has increased its contribution to $84,000 for FY20/21. Therefore the new revenue total is $1,134,000 annually, which covers everything including the department’s annual operating cost of $420,000.

It’s likely operating costs will increase over the years as the department moves to the 24/7 scenario like other departments in the county, which means more firefighters will be on payroll.

“It’s getting harder and harder to get volunteers,” said Ward.

But Ward said as the payment amounts decrease over the years, even if the operating costs increase, there shouldn’t be a problem.

MC Emergency Service Director Warren Cabe said if more money is needed, the fire tax can be increased again in the future.

Due to property valuations, Highlands still has one of the lowest fire tax percentages in the county.

Bob Ralston with D.R. Reynolds said 35% of the subcontractors in line for the various jobs are local because they were the low bidders.

“We hope they are doing this for the town,” he said. “But we will continue to solicit bids to save money on contractors throughout the process.”

Ralston said the bids in hand are good for 90 days and the length of construction will be 14 months based on when the job starts.

“We have to get started because construction prices right now are going crazy. We would like to start before the end of the year.”

Now that the Town Board has given its OK, the town will go to the Local Government Commission for approval of the loan with BB&T. At this point, all is expected to go smoothly.    

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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