CHICAGO — Milwaukee city and county voters chose new comptrollers last week, while those in a tornado-ravaged Missouri city approved bonding for school building projects, and St. Louis County voters approved new debt for courthouse projects.
In St. Louis County, voters gave the green light to $100 million of borrowing to finance renovations to the main courthouse and to build a new family courthouse adjacent to the main building. Construction is not expected to begin until next year.
Voters rejected a $120 million referendum to finance similar projects in 2008. The county said it doesn’t need to raise taxes to repay the debt, but it will need to continue an existing property tax levy.
Voters in Joplin, Mo.’s school district narrowly approved a referendum seeking $62 million of borrowing to cover its share of the costs to rebuild schools damaged by a deadly tornado that struck last May. School officials estimated that a typical homeowner will pay about $65 more annually to cover the debt.
The K-12 district is undertaking a $185 million rebuilding program that includes some additional projects beyond rebuilding those facilities damaged by the tornado.
The district, formally known as the Jaspar County R-VIII School District, lost four of its 19 buildings to the category F-5 tornado that hit on May 22, with another six damaged. Total district damages are estimated at over $150 million. The tornado killed 161 and left 1,000 injured.
District officials anticipate insurance will cover $85.9 million of the proposed capital program, with preliminary estimates of $35.4 million coming from state and federal sources and donations. Federal funds cover 75% of qualified projects, but not all expenses, such as planned improvements to the rebuilt schools, are covered. The state will kick in 10% to cover the local share.
The district has held on to its A-plus underlying issuer rating from Standard & Poor’s despite the strain the tornado’s damage has put on its finances. The district had healthy ending balance levels at the time the twister hit and was able to tap them to manage cash flow as it awaited aid and insurance reimbursement. The district would use George K. Baum & Co. as its underwriter.
In the city of Milwaukee, voters elected Martin Matson, deputy director of the city’s Employees Retirement System, as their new comptroller. Matson had trailed Milwaukee County supervisor Johnny Thomas Jr. in the race until Thomas suspended his campaign earlier this year following the filing of criminal charges against him for accepting a bribe during a sting operation.
The office was up for grabs following the decision of longtime Comptroller W. Martin “Wally” Morics to retire. The comptroller sits on the city employees’ pension board; manages Milwaukee’s financial affairs, including debt management; establishes accounting policies for city departments; and manages cash flow, audits and financial analysis of projects. The comptroller also sits on several boards and is secretary to the city’s public debt commission. Thomas’ name remained on the ballot.
Milwaukee County voters elected the county’s longtime controller and accountant Scott Manske to serve as their first comptroller. Manske defeated accountant and financial consultant Kristie Bunting. Wisconsin lawmakers last year created the elected position, modeled on the city’s post, to manage debt, audits and other fiscal manners.
Voters in nine counties to the north of Milwaukee in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley region approved a $66.5 million bond referendum to finance expansion and upgrade projects to Fox Valley Technical College.
The referendum was the busy college’s first since 1998. The bond proceeds will allow the school to build a public safety center and expand programs for in-demand careers.