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Cutting debt is LCDA priority
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The Liberty County Development Authority established priorities Wednesday that will guide its operations in coming months, and the gist of their objectives is to reduce debt, get out of the reclaimed-water business and refocus on job creation.
The seven-member board established the project list during a daylong workshop
at Coastal Electric Cooperative in Midway, where
Georgia EMC facilitator Niki Knox kept the group on track.
The cost of the retreat was $531.24 to cover catering and Knox’s accommodation fee, according to LCDA Director of Finance and Administration Carmen Cole.

Debt reduction

The group’s No. 1 goal is to reduce the debt owed to SunTrust bank, which the authority restructured in 2011.
When it was restructured, the $25 million debt included a $14 million note for Tradeport East, a $1.7 million note for Tradeport West and a $9 million note for the Laurel View water-reclamation facility.
Board secretary Brian Smith, who also presides over The Heritage Bank, initiated the conversation about debt reduction.
“All of us are aware of the opportunities that were afforded to us through the offer of SunTrust in our original renegotiation,” Smith said. “That opportunity of a 100 percent match is still out there until … we’ve got two more years of that opportunity to meet that match, then it goes to 50 percent.”
Smith did not specify the details of the offer, but he said the board ought to allocate as much money as possible for the match before they lose the opportunity.
Cole said the match opportunity applies to one note. As of the end of August, the LCDA owed $24,275,193.
Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver asked what type of revenue sources the board could use to maximize its investment. Smith suggested reducing operations costs or liquidating assets such as vacant property.  
“If we’ve got $1 million, it turns into $2 million … it’s the best return on investment that you’ll ever see,” Smith said.
They already have allocated $1.3 million toward the match bond, Cole said. An asset and budget analysis showed an additional $500,000 that could be applied to the debt if not utilized by the end of the fiscal year.
 “My inclination is, go as far as you can as fast as you can toward reducing that principal,” Smith said, but he added that financial planner Jim Hargrove has a more conservative approach that accounts for the LCDA’s other debt and obligations.
As a term of the debt agreement with the bank, the entity is required to maintain a specific amount of cash on hand, Cole reminded the board.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley said it is essential that the entity maintain access to cash in the event they need to make capital improvements to accommodate industrial presences.
The board will ask Hargrove to model an accelerated repayment plan on a 60-day timeline that would allow the authority to maintain appropriate cash on hand while still maximizing the dollar-for-dollar match SunTrust has offered.

Sale of non-industrial land

The board also discussed selling four non-industrial properties to help meet the debt-reduction objective.
Cole said the authority is seeking appraisals on four parcels of non-industrial land.
Two outparcels are on Airport Road, one 7.63 acres and the other 6.63 acres. Another .621-acre parcel is on Highway 84 adjacent to the current Midway/Riceboro library, and another 8.21 acres has Interstate 95 frontage with access behind the Parker’s on Highway 84.  
The board agreed to seek appraisals and list the properties. Proceeds likely will be used to reduce debt.

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