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Chesterfield On Point

Posted on: February 28, 2022

Proposed bond referendum package includes $540 million in county, schools capital projects

Chester fire station

Chester fire station Chester Fire Station 1 is slated to be replaced with a larger building that can accommodate modern fire apparatus 

Postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chesterfield’s budget staff has submitted a slate of county and school capital projects to the Board of Supervisors for consideration in November’s planned bond referendum.

Matt Harris, deputy county administrator for finance and administration, presented the referendum projects Feb. 23 as part of the county’s proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for fiscal years 2023 through 2027, which will be voted on by the board in early April.

A public hearing on the CIP has been scheduled for the board’s March 23 meeting.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, Chesterfield will ask voters to authorize the issuance of $540 million in general obligation bonds to finance major capital improvements: $375 million for schools and $165 million for the county government.

Municipal governments use bond proceeds to fund construction of public infrastructure, such as schools, public safety facilities, parks and libraries. Bonds are sold to investors and repaid over time. Bond funds cannot be used for everyday operating costs. 

Under Virginia law, local governments must conduct a referendum before selling general obligation bonds, which are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the issuer and thus are widely considered to be safe investments.

Because Chesterfield maintains a Triple-A bond rating from all three of America’s major rating agencies – equivalent to a perfect credit rating -- issuing general obligation bonds allows it to borrow money at the lowest available interest rates.

The bond referendum originally was scheduled to be placed on the ballot in November 2021, but county leaders decided to wait a year and gain a clearer picture about the pandemic’s impact on the local economy.

Harris told board members last week the additional time has given staff an opportunity to analyze data and “refine” the plan based on population growth and Chesterfield’s capital needs.

“Fortunately I think it’s a better program now than what we would’ve looked at [last year],” he said.

As an example, Harris cited increased recognition of the role parks and libraries have played as community assets throughout the pandemic.

“I think that’s one of those silver linings … these numbers would not be the same if it wasn’t for some of the lessons and realizations from the COVID period,” he added.

Ettrick-Matoaca library The capacity of Ettrick-Matoaca Library would be more than doubled, from 8,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet

There is $45.7 million for libraries in the proposed referendum, including replacement of the Enon Library, renovation/expansion of the Ettrick-Matoaca Library and construction of a new library to serve residential growth in the western Route 360 corridor.

Parks and Rec is slated to receive $38.7 million for capital projects, including improvements at the county-owned River City Sportsplex, construction of a softball complex at Horner Park as an enhancement to the county’s sports tourism facilities and a new boat ramp on the James River in Enon.

Nearly half of the county’s share of the referendum proceeds, or $81.1 million, has been designated for public safety.

$42 million would go toward replacing small, outdated fire stations in Chester and Ettrick and expanding the Clover Hill and Dutch Gap stations.

Another $39.1 million would fund construction of permanent stations for all four of Chesterfield’s police precincts – resulting in significant cost savings over time as the police department vacates office space it currently leases across the county.

If approved by voters in November, the proposed projects would represent the county government’s most significant capital investment since 2004. 

The school system received $402 million of the total $451 million in Chesterfield’s 2013 bond referendum, with the remainder of the proceeds used to fund replacement of the county’s emergency communications system.

The list of projects submitted recently by the School Board for this year’s referendum includes replacements of three elementary schools – A.M. Davis, Bensley and Grange Hall – as well as Midlothian Middle School. 

Funding also is targeted for construction of another new elementary school and a new high school in western Route 360, plus renovation of Thomas Dale High School’s West campus.

The school selections were based on a combination of data from Chesterfield’s StratIS growth projection tool, which shows where capacity will be needed in future years to meet enrollment increases, and facility condition assessments of existing buildings.

“From a financial perspective, it certainly makes sense,” Harris said. “2013 for schools was really about [revitalization] – there weren’t a lot of seats added to the system. This has a much better balance of adding seats where we know we need them and dealing with some older buildings.”

According to Harris, Chesterfield’s aggressiveness in paying down debt would allow the entire slate of referendum projects to be funded within a 5-year window, while remaining in compliance with the county’s debt management policies.

The county and schools projects will be grouped together in one question on the general election ballot, meaning voters will have to approve or reject them as a package.

Chesterfield expects to petition the Circuit Court in August to add the referendum question to the ballot for November’s election.

From June to October, county and school leaders will conduct extensive public engagement sessions so residents can learn about the projects prior to going to the polls.

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