Board OKs $14.7M for county en­ergy sys­tems

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) voted three to two Tues­day night to ap­prove ne­go­ti­a­tions with a com­pre­hen­sive guar­an­teed en­ergy sav­ings per­for­mance con­tract for $14.7 mil­lion.

At an ear­lier work ses­sion, Cur­tis Brown and other rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ABM In­dus­tries pre­sented the re­sults of an in­vest­ment-grade en­ergy au­dit of New­ton County’s build­ings, in­clud­ing the De­ten­tion Cen­ter. Many, Brown said, are in dan­ger of cat­a­strophic fail­ures of HVAC and other en­ergy sys­tems.

“Right now,” Brown said, “your build­ings are old and there’s been a lot of de­ferred main­te­nance.”

With­out tak­ing steps now, he said, the county risked cat­a­strophic fail­ures of sys­tems, sim­i­lar to what the main branch of the li­brary ex­pe­ri­enced last year when its air con­di­tion­ing stopped work­ing.

Brown pre­sented the re­sults of an en­ergy au­dit or­dered by the BOC ear­lier this year. The board had re­quested a “bud­get neu­tral” rec­om­men­da­tion for the pro­grams, one that would not cost the county ad­di­tional money be­yond what it could save by mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties more en­ergy ef­fi­cient.

How­ever, the breadth of needs for up­dates, re­pairs and re­place­ment, at least min­i­miz­ing the threat of sys­tem fail­ures, led ABM to rec­om­mend com­pre­hen­sive in­vest­ment pro­grams for both the De­ten­tion Cen­ter and the other county build­ings, a self-funded pro­gram for both; or a com­bi­na­tion of com­pre­hen­sive and self­funded. A self-funded pro­gram means sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings from re­plac­ing in­ef­fi­cient en­ergy sys­tems could off­set the cost of the in­vest­ment.

FOUR RESOLUTIONS DRAFTED

Me­gan Martin of Jar­rard and Davis Law Firm, the county at­tor­ney, had pre­pared four dif­fer­ent resolutions: one to ne­go­ti­ate with con­trac­tors for a com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy in­vest­ment; one for a to­tally self-funded project, which would address some of the is­sues re­vealed in the au­dit; and two for con­tracts to work on a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram for the county and self-funded pro­gram for the sher­iff’s of­fice project and vice-versa.

The most sig­nif­i­cant needs are at the De­ten­tion Cen­ter, the au­dit re­ported, and in­clude re­plac­ing a pre­ma­turely aged HVAC sys­tem; re­plac­ing a leak­ing, unin­su­lated metal roof; in­stalling con­trols for wa­ter flow; and re­plac­ing kitchen and laun­dry equip­ment. Ac­cord­ing to New­ton County Sher­iff Ezell Brown, he will need to re­place the roof, at an es­ti­mated cost of $350,000, the kitchen and laun­dry equip­ment at $225,000, and re­place the HVAC’s cool­ing tower at $500,000.

The Ju­di­cial Build­ing’s HVAC cool­ing tower will also need re­plac­ing soon, Brown said.

The com­pre­hen­sive op­tion would elim­i­nate en­ergy waste, min­i­mize risk of cap­i­tal out­lay and address known in­fra­struc­ture is­sues of en­ergy waste at all county build­ings, in­clud­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, fire­houses, the his­toric court­house and the sher­iff’s of­fice. The com­pre­hen­sive plan would drop the cost of op­er­a­tion per square foot in all county build­ings, with the largest drop be­ing from $4.50 at the sher­iff’s of­fice to ap­prox­i­mately $2.75. It would in­clude in­stalla- tion of LED light­ing and up­dated con­trols; wa­ter con­ser­va­tion sys­tems; ma­jor HVAC re­place­ments; new se­cu­rity sys­tems in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions; and a new, county-wide phone sys­tem.

Brown said the ad­van­tages of adopt­ing the com­pre­hen­sive plan for all fa­cil­i­ties in­clude tak­ing ad­van­tage of low in­ter­est rates and negat­ing the risk of un­planned cap­i­tal out­lay. The dis­ad­van­tages are the larger in­vest­ment made up front and the need to bud­get $325,000 for loan pay­ments in ad­di­tion to the money made avail­able through en­ergy sav­ings.

The county could ob­tain a loan for the $14.7 mil­lion for the com­pre­hen­sive plan at 2 per­cent in­ter­est, with pay­ments over 15 years be­gin­ning 2018.

The self-funded op­tions for all county build­ings would cost $8,999,393, with $5,604,049 go­ing to the De­ten­tion Cen­ter, and $3,395,344 to other county build­ings. The investments would only address those prob­lems that do not re­quire more than the amount saved through en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. This op­tion does not address ma­jor cap­i­tal needs and would re­quire the county to spend an es­ti­mated $3.7 mil­lion in cap­i­tal funds over the next five years.

The self-funded op­tion would cover investments in crit­i­cal projects at the De­ten­tion Cen­ter as well as re­place­ment of the HVAC cool­ing tower at the Ju­di­cial Cen­ter. Only se­cu­rity and county-wide phone sys­tems would be re­placed at other fa­cil­i­ties.

Brown said there would still be a risk of un­planned cap­i­tal out­lay and re­quires plan­ning to bud­get for re­plac­ing in­op­er­a­ble equip­ment in ex­cess of $3.7 mil­lion.

A blended op­tion would address only those projects se­lected in each build­ing and would cost $10,714,402, with the com­pre­hen­sive plan en­acted at the De­ten­tion Cen­ter and the self-funded op­tion for the re­main­ing county build­ings.

Spe­cial-pur­pose lo­cal op­tion sales tax (SPLOST) could be used for the projects, Brown said. He also said if the BOC adopted a res­o­lu­tion for one of the in­vest­ment plans and con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions were com­pleted, work would take be­tween nine and 12 months to com­plete. DE­FERRED MAIN­TE­NANCE COMES DUE

Chair Keith El­lis told the board dur­ing the work ses­sion that he sup­ported the com­pre­hen­sive pro­posal for re­pair­ing, re­plac­ing or up­grad­ing all county build­ings. He said as far as he knew, no money had been spent on build­ing main­te­nance since he had be­come BOC Chair.

“I wish we could do a bet­ter job of set­ting aside funds for this,” El­lis said.

Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims, Dis­trict 2, agreed, say­ing he never wanted to go through the process of re­plac­ing an ex­pen­sive piece of equip­ment, as the board had done last year when the main branch of the li­brary’s HVAC sys­tem stopped work­ing. “I’ve never seen so many build­ings in dan­ger ... If the board doesn’t do some­thing ag­gres­sive [now], what is our plan? We have not had a plan for deal­ing with build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture. This isn’t just on us. It’s on pre­vi­ous boards.”

“Are we go­ing to con­tinue work­ing in en­ergy cri­sis mode?” Sims asked.

He said the county couldn’t keep spend­ing mil­lions to build a build­ing with­out bud­get­ing for its main­te­nance.

Sims re­it­er­ated his opin­ion dur­ing the meet­ing. How­ever, Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Mad­dox, Dis­trict 5, dis­agreed with his fel­low com­mis­sioner. “I’ve got it in my mind we can’t af­ford this. The op­tion is spend­ing money. We’re strug­gling might­ily to ap­prove a bud­get.”

Over the last few months, the county has been work­ing to re­vise its fis­cal year 2017 bud­get re­quests, which will have a $2.1 mil­lion short­fall if the mill­age rate isn’t raised. [See “BOC needs more than $2 mil­lion to bal­ance bud­get” at http://www.cov­news. com/sec­tion/1/ar­ti­cle/201320/.]

At its July 12 work ses­sion, the BOC came to a con­sen­sus on how to bal­ance the fis­cal year 2017 bud­get, charg­ing a $50 fee for use of the county’s con­ve­nience cen­ters through Jan­uary and re­duc­ing hours of op­er­a­tion un­til the cen­ters close.

Called on by the com­mis­sion­ers to address the Sher­iff’s Of­fice’s needs, Sher­iff Ezell Brown said, “We’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we’re go­ing to have to re­place a roof [at $350,000], to re­place kitchen equip­ment [at $250,000], not to talk about a cool­ing sys­tem and that’s $500,000 cool­ing tow­ers.

“We’re at a cross roads,” the sher­iff said. “We’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we are go­ing to need to re­place [sys­tems].”

I’ve got it in my mind we can’t af­ford this. The op­tion is spend­ing money. We’re strug­gling might­ily to ap­prove a bud­get.” — Le­vie Mad­dox, Com­mis­sioner Dis­trict 5

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