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JPs approve bond interest rate for new career, technical center

March 5, 2019 at 3:05 a.m.

Saline County sold the bonds to finance its vocational center and approved the interest rates it will pay the bond owners on Monday.

The Saline County Quorum Court called a special meeting to approve the interest rates, which start at 2.9 percent in 2020 and reach about 3.6 percent in 2042. The justices of the peace unanimously passed the ordinance authorizing the interest rates. One member was absent.

County Judge Jeff Arey said he hopes to start building the Saline County Career and Technical Center by the end of the summer and hopes to open the center by 2021.

Representatives with Stephens Inc. sold all the bonds before the meeting Monday, said Leigh Ann Biernat, a senior vice president for Stephens. The buyers were a mix of national entities, middle-market groups and Arkansas banks.

The bonds amount to about $43 million, according to the ordinance.

In November, Saline County residents passed a three-eighths percent sales tax with about 55 percent of the vote, Arey said. The tax will even-

tually pay off the bonds for the center.

The bonds will act similarly to bank loans, said Jack Truemper, a senior vice president at Stephens. Twice a year, the sales tax will pay down interest on the bonds, and yearly the tax will pay off a chunk of the debt.

The sales tax will pay off the bonds in 12 years if the county experiences no growth. It will pay them off in 10 years if the county experiences growth at 3.5 percent, Biernat said.

Truemper said the bond money will become available to Saline County April 16.

Arey said he plans to open a bidding process to see which bank will hold the bond money and accumulate the most interest for the county.

“I want to make sure we earn interest off that money the best that we can,” Arey said.

He said he would prefer to use a bank in Saline County to support local business, he said.

Arey said the vocational center will boost Saline County’s economy, heralding Frisco, Texas, as the group’s gold standard. Frisco established a vocational school,

which was cited as a factor in Toyota’s decision in 2014 to build its North American corporate campus in nearby Plano, creating some 1,000 jobs in the area.

More than half of Saline County’s workforce finds jobs outside the county. After students graduate from high school, the center will give them the opportunity to find jobs and raise families in Saline County, said Lamont Cornwell, the executive director of the Saline County Economic Development Corporation.

In Arkansas, there are 28 secondary area technical centers, which operate similarly to how the Saline County center will work, according to the Career Education Department.

The center will allow high school students to pursue courses in 10 categories, including health science, nursing and welding. The students will receive college credit for every course they take at the center.

Benton School District Superintendent Mike Skelton said that whether students choose to go to college or directly to the workforce, the center “really gives them a leg up.”

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