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Group to suggest options to improve prison operations

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Thursday, May 16, 2013, 11:57 p.m.
 

A member of a Fayette County group that is exploring options for a new jail warned that timing will be critical in obtaining a favorable financing rate on any bonds that may be floated to pay for a new lockup.

County Controller Sean Lally said Thursday that he has met recently with various investment bankers and financial experts to discuss the “optimal point” for obtaining favorable interest rates on bonds.

“The optimal point was yesterday,” Lally said, noting the experts advised him that rates are at an historic 30-year low.

Lally leads the group's finance team.

County Commissioner Al Ambrosini organized the panel in November to meet monthly to report on progress individual teams have made regarding ways to improve prison operations.

The group's recommendations — which will include suggestions for everything from implementing mental health and drug and alcohol programs to building a prison — are to be presented to the prison board by the end of the year, Ambrosini said.

Lally said rates on 30-year bonds were at 3.65 percent as of Wednesday.

As an example, he said that if the county were to float a $30 million bond over 30 years at 3.65 percent, the total cost would be $49.5 million. If rates were to rise by just 1 percent before the county is in a position to borrow, the same bond, at 4.65 percent, would cost $76.5 million.

“Time is of the essence to do this,” Lally said.

County commissioners have not yet discussed whether they will build a new prison.

Lally said they need to act soon, though, to begin the process of obtaining a bond to finance construction because the county must first obtain a bond rating.

Fees charged by agencies such as Moody's and Standard and Poor's for the ratings are approximately $20,000, Lally said.

Jim Killinger, who leads the architectural team, said a number of locations for a new prison are still under consideration, including sites in Dunbar and Smithfield boroughs and Franklin and German townships.

Ambrosini said one of the locations in Dunbar is near the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport, but he would not reveal the exact location. He said he spoke with Bureau of Aviation officials in Harrisburg on Wednesday about the location, and a staff member there has been assigned to determine whether it is feasible to use it.

Ambrosini said any site near the airport cannot be near flight paths.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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