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Board balks at buying park land
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County's first potential purchase of green space under its new bond program made Thursday's commission agenda, but that's about as far as it got.

Commissioners Jim Harrell and Charles Laughinghouse moved to postpone discussion of an item called "acquisition of the Harrison property" until Dec. 4.

That upset the other three commissioners -- Brian Tam, Linda Ledbetter and David Richard --  and triggered heated discussion about whether to move forward with the meeting.

In the end, however, Tam broke the impasse and the session continued after a 3-2 vote on the agenda.

The Harrison property, which includes about 60 acres along Caney Road off Hwy. 141 in south Forsyth, fared well in an evaluation by green space consultants Lose & Associates.

An offer is in place to buy the site, which Richard said stood out as "one of the best properties we've looked at."

Owned by the late Arlene Harrison and now maintained by relatives, the entire Harrison site totals about 154 acres.

County property records show it is valued at nearly $3.4 million and assessed at about $1.3 million.

Commissioners are looking to buy about a third of that land for green space. They declined to comment on how much it would cost, though there have been several reports of $135,000 an acre.

"It's a very good financial deal," Richard said.

Tam "took exception" to postponing the Harrison item, but ultimately made a motion to adopt the agenda.

"I plan to vote [to adopt the agenda] because we have business before this board," Tam said. "We have bonds to approve, but I do object to this."

The move to postpone did not sit well with Ledbetter either.

"This is just a move by two commissioners to stop the other three from purchasing some green space," she said. "You can postpone it at this meeting and the next. That pretty much puts me out of office."

Ledbetter's term ends Jan. 1, as does Richard's. Ledbetter chose not to seek re-election, while Richard was defeated by Patrick Bell in the July 15 Republican primary.

Richard said a rule allows two Forsyth County commissioners to postpone an item for two consecutive meetings.

Laughinghouse said the item was postponed "based on information that was presented to the board in the last 36 hours ... We've not had a chance to evaluate that information."

Once the meeting got under way, the board voted 5-0 to issue $83 million in bonds, or IOUs with interest, to investors.

The county plans to use the money for parks and green space, part of a $100 million bond voters approved in February.

In addition, the board voted to issue $35 million in sales tax bonds, part of the recent extension of the 1-cent sales tax.

The money will go toward the $13.5 million extension of Ronald Reagan Boulevard, among other projects.

Financial advisers hired by the county assured commissioners Thursday that they "got an exceptionally good deal," with a true interest cost of 4.73 percent and a 20-year maturity on the $83 million bond and 2.75 percent with a five-year maturity on the $35 million bond.

Of the $83 million, $36 million is earmarked for the purchase of green space, for which the county hired Lose & Associates in July to help determine what properties were best suited.

According to Bill Thomas, the county's chief financial officer, bonds for the other $17 million of green space money will be issued later.

Thomas said the board did not issue the entire $100 million at the same time because regulations state that once the funds come in, they must be used within 24 months.

"We didn't think we could spend it all that quick," Thomas said.