Senior Housing: Oconee Council approves bond issue for assisted-living development

By Ray Chandler for Independent Mail

WALHALLA — The Oconee County Council’s approval of a $13 million bond issue was only a formality, but it stirred the ire of some residents.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the issuance of the Recovery Zone Facility Revenue Bonds by the South Carolina Jobs-Economic Development Authority for the benefit of Keowee Assisted Living LLC.

The limited liability corporation is an enterprise of Apex Development Group and is planning a senior assisted living development on about 20 acres near Salem.

County officials questioned developer Seth Henry and county attorney Tom Martin at length regarding any possible liability by the county in case of default or an effect on the county’s own bond limit.

Martin said the funding mechanism, known as conduit funding, did not obligate the county in any way and did not count against the county’s debt limit.

The bonds were backed by federal stimulus funds, Martin said, and the council’s vote was only a formality required by S.C. Jobs-Economic Development Authority. Ultimately, he said, any liability in the event of default fell on U.S. taxpayers as a whole, not solely local taxpayers.

Council member Paul Corbeil and Chairman Reg Dexter expressed dissatisfaction with the developers’ plans for sewer service to the project, which will involve a sewer line extension by the city of Seneca from near the Duke Energy power plant up U.S. 130.

Responding to a question by Corbeil whether the developers could pay for the sewer line, Henry said the project’s budget had “a healthy number” for financing the sewer line but he added that he couldn’t guarantee that the developers would not seek some county aid in the future to meet the cost..

Council members considered postponing a vote until more information was available but the developer said he had a narrow window from the development authority to seek the bonds and any hesitancy on the part of the council could kill the project, which he said would create about 65 full- and part-time jobs.

Council member Wayne McCall said the jobs the project would bring justified the council moving ahead with its approval.

Tom Markovich, former president of Home Builders of Oconee County, said that not only would the project bring permanent jobs but many temporary ones during the building phase.

Several residents spoke against rushing ahead with the vote and opposed the plan on general grounds that the federal stimulus bonds and the risk of default was an example of government spending run amok.

Bo Horne, former candidate for the county council, described it as “government of special interests, by special interests and for special interests.”

The planned sewer line, too, is a dubious idea, Horne said.

“You underestimate the outcry if you run a sewer line up (S.C.) 130,” Horne told council members. “You just heard (Henry) say (the project) will be a magnet for growth, but that’s a residential area.”

Developer Henry said the project had originally been intended for Pickens or Greenville counties but was shifted to Oconee County because of greater perceived need.

[independentmail.com]

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