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After a long discussion—and contrary to the County Mayor’s recommendation to delay action—the Perry County Commission approved a $933,000 low-interest loan to make energy improvements at all four schools.

The Commission met in regular monthly session on December 20, 2021, and approved 10-0 the request from Perry County Schools Director Eric Lomax.

The matter was first brought up at the October meeting, and since then, the program received state approval. Two months ago, the Commission gave Director Lomax authority to pursue state approval of the program offered through a partnership with Trane.

In fact, as reported in October, Trane guarantees that the energy improvements will generate enough savings to pay off the loan—or the company will pay back the borrowed money.

At last Monday’s meeting, County Mayor John Carroll informed the Commission that a funding opportunity through USDA to cover 35% to 50% of the energy improvement costs could be available soon; he recommended the Commission wait before approving the agreement with the state and Trane, and delay borrowing the full amount which could be offset by the USDA grant.

Mayor Carroll said he was told he should know something about the availability of USDA money by February. The USDA funding, if realized, would have to be applied to an ongoing project like the school energy program; he did not know if the funds would be approved for this project if the Commission had already voted to borrow the money.

Asking the Commissioners to put off the approval, Mayor Carroll said, “We can’t afford to do anything that might mess that up.” He said the USDA grant could cover $300,000 to $450,000 of the project costs if the Commission waited until April or May to borrow the balance.

A Trane representative present at the December 20 meeting said the energy program would not cost the county taxpayers anything, that energy savings would pay back the loan and interest, and if not, Trane was responsible for repayment through the agreement with the state.

The Trane rep said the program has been reviewed and approved by Trane and state engineers, that Trane “has all the risks,” and that the state has approved Perry County Schools’ participation. The rep also pointed out that the state had “put Perry County ahead of other schools” pursuing the program.

The energy project will replace interior and exterior lighting in all buildings with more efficient fixtures, and install control panels to regulate HVAC usage system-wide.

Commissioner J.B. Trull asked the Trane rep if the project contract would be the same if delayed by several months; the rep said he could not answer that question since costs of materials are rising.

Commissioner Trull also said he was worried that the county might be turning down an opportunity like it did during a previous County Mayor’s term in office when an airport improvement grant was missed.

Mayor Carroll said, “We’re not turning this one down, just delaying it a few months. You’re not giving your money up to someone else like the $600,000 airport grant.”

Asked if the USDA funds could be used for some other purpose, Mayor Carroll said yes, but the county would have to “generate a project” where the USDA money could be used to cover a percentage of total costs.

Since the USDA funds are based on “project scope,” Mayor Carroll said, the county would only receive  $300,000 or more if another project had the same overall costs as the energy plan.

Mayor Carroll also said the school system would benefit if the USDA grant was applied to this project because the energy cost savings would go to their “bottom line” if the loan amount was reduced.

Commissioner Rodger Barber asked if the county could still apply for USDA grant if the energy loan is approved first.

Mayor Carroll said he did not know if the……………


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