Culver seeking new funding for Beaver Run project

County Executive Bob Culver is sticking by his declaration that Beaver Run Elementary School construction bond borrowing can’t begin this year, even as the County Council is publicly insisting the executive is wrong.

In a letter dated June 13 and addressed to county schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin, Council President John Cannon labels Culver’s assertions as “very misleading.”

After the County Council earlier this month declined to confirm Culver’s appointment for Finance Director, then blocked his paying unconfirmed employees and restricted his ability to pay for legal services, the executive said he would be unable to present a borrowing plan to bankers in September.

In an interview last week, Culver said the situation was unchanged, and that without a County Attorney or Finance Director available to serve him, negotiations with Wall Street bond brokers would be impossible.

In all, $9 million in borrowing is at stake. Under the just-adopted capital expenditures plan, the county was planning to borrow $7 million to begin construction of a new Beaver Run and $2 million to complete the West Side Collector Road.

While the road project can wait, placing the Beaver Run in the funding pipeline is considered urgent.

“The decision to go to the bond market is up to the County Executive and that decision should not be based on the vacancies for the Director of Finance and County Attorney,” Cannon wrote in the letter to Hanlin.

“If the County Executive truly wants to go to the bond market this year, other county employees could certainly work with the county’s bond counsel and bond consultant,” he wrote.

Competing interpretations of County Charter language has led to what appears to be an all-out war between the legislative and executive branches. The dispute is now affecting most every governmental endeavor – the division has surfaced in recent public discussions concerning major issues such as opioid reparations funding and more routine matters such as future assistance for the Meals On Wheels program.

In staking out the council’s position in the controversy, Cannon sought to explain the county’s borrowing process.

“The county hires special legal counsel that specializes in bond sales that prepares all the paperwork, not the County Attorney,” Cannon wrote to Hanlin. “The County Attorney may assist specialized bond counsel at times, but he is certainly not ‘heavily involved’ in the bond presentation or sale. In addition, the County hires a consultant … to prepare the bond presentation that is given in New York each year. The County Attorney is not involved in the bond presentation and the Finance Director has limited involvement.”

Cannon goes on to point out that the county has had five different Finance Directors over the past five years, and the county “was without a serving Finance Director when the bond closing occurred.”

Culver has stated there isn’t sufficient time to hire and place suitable replacements for County Attorney and Finance Director in advance of the September borrowing presentations. In his letter, however, Cannon challenged that assertion.

“Historically, the county goes to New York in October for the bond presentation and then closes on the bonds around November or December, with the exception of last year the county closed on the bonds on Oct. 30th,” Cannon wrote. “This gives the County Executive ample time to appoint (for confirmation by the County Council) a County Attorney to succeed (Paul) Wilber and appoint a Finance Director, or to appoint an acting County Attorney and acting Finance Director, if needed.”

Culver maintains the council just doesn’t understand.

“That totally shows their lack of knowledge about what’s going on,” Culver said in reference to Cannon’s letter. “You can’t go to the bond market without the County Attorney – the County Attorney signs all of the paperwork down here.”

He also said the time window to make an appointment is just too short.

“When (former longtime County Attorney Ed) Baker retired and Mr. Wilber was hired, it took six months of them working together to make the transition and bring Mr. Wilber’s office up to speed,” Culver said.

In an interview with Salisbury Independent, the County Executive also revealed the infighting has sullied the county’s reputation in the Wall Street financial houses.

“New York is very important,” Culver said. “We’ve actually been told now by our broker: ‘Do not come to New York this year’ – because of the political unrest that’s going on down here. That’s kind of embarrassing. That’s a whole-lot embarrassing – all because the council doesn’t understand their role in government.”

Cannon, meanwhile, wrote to Hanlin: “As far as the County Council is aware, the County Executive has not engaged in any significant effort to recruit a Finance Director since the former director resigned last year, nor a County Attorney to succeed Mr. Wilber.”

Culver, however, said last week he has begun advertising to recruit a new County Attorney.

Both Culver and Cannon restated their support for the Beaver Run Elementary rebuild.

“As you’re aware, the County Council approved the Beaver Run Project in the five-year Capital Improvement Plan and Fiscal Year 20 Budget and has no intention of delaying any projects that require bond funding,” Cannon wrote.

Rumors have circulated for the last 10 days that Culver might go directly to other lending sources to keep Beaver Run on track. He agreed that’s true.

“I’m still trying to find a way to make Beaver Run work,” he said. “That’s true. We’re looking at other ways – whether we do a bank loan of some sort and try to pay it back once we get the bond (loan) hearing.

“I’m not trying to hurt the schools at all,” Culver said. “Sometimes you have to hit the pause button until you can figure out what’s going on.”

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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