Hamilton County tackling $47M wish list, more to come

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Hamilton County is poised to pay off decades-old debt tied to a jail expansion and judicial center construction, but it has more than $50 million in projects waiting in the wings.

Officials have been working for months to prioritize an ever-growing wish list that includes everything from a $21,000 utility cart to a county office expansion expected to cost at least $11.5 million.

This week, the seven-member County Council signed off on a measure appropriating the proceeds of four general-obligation bonds being sold to finance most of the work.

The total value of the bonds will be about $47 million. But each bond issue will total less than $12 million—keeping the county from potentially running afoul of a state law that requires municipal projects exceeding that amount to be authorized through a referendum.

Attorney Mike Howard, who represents the three county commissioners who oversee day-to-day operations, said the referendum rule applies only to single projects financed through a bond issue.

Just one of the items on the county’s list even came close: a $11.5 million contribution to the cost of acquiring a former Noblesville middle school for use as an Ivy Tech Community College campus. The city of Noblesville and the state of Indiana also are chipping in.

Payments on the four new bonds will total $4.5 million next year, he said, keeping the county’s tax rate stable. They’ll be reduced the following year to accommodate a fifth issue expected in 2014 to fund the county office expansion.

Commissioners are still working to determine the best way to resolve a space crunch at the Hamilton County Judicial and Government Center in downtown Noblesville, and asked the council to hold off on replacing all the debt until they can come up with a proposal.

Howard acknowledges that project has the potential to creep into referendum territory, depending on the solution officials choose to pursue.

In the meantime, expect to see a flurry of activity as the county repairs facilities, replaces equipment and upgrades technology.

“During the recession, a lot of things were put on the back burner,” Howard said. “This should get things going again.”

The bond transactions are expected to close this year.

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