ATLANTA - Brevard County, Fla., seems headed for another showdown with the municipal market after voters on Tuesday waved in two new county commissioners who are expected to urge a referendum on a certificates of participation issue.
After the officials take office Nov. 16, four of five county commissioners will favor asking voters if the county should cease lease payments on the $23.9 million COPs deal it sold in 1989, Commissioner Karen Andreas said yesterday. Proceeds from the deal have funded the construction of a controversial government operations center in Viera.
"I think county voters can now count on having a say on whether the lease payments will be continued," Andreas said. "Right now the only question is when."
Andreas said that two current commissioners who have resisted a referendum will now be replaced by officials whose election campaigns stressed bringing the COPs deal before voters.
Newcomers Scott Ellis, who succeeds Thad Altman, and Nancy Higgs, who narrowly beat incumbent Carol Senne, now join Andreas and Truman Scarborough as referendum backers, she said.
The county's fifth commissioner, Sue Schmitt-Kirwan, has opposed holding the referendum.
Higgs agreed that it is only a matter of time before the referendum is brought to voters.
"One of the main issues during the campaign was the people's right to vote on" the COPs financing, she said. "There is no question in my mind that they should be given that right, and that they will have that right."
But while Andreas considers a referendum inevitable, she said she doubts the commissioners will act immediately to call for the vote. The commissioners hold their first post-election meeting Nov. 17.
"We will need time to take a careful look at this matter," she said. "I do not see us calling for the referendum until December at the earliest, and I do not see the vote taking place before March."
In the fall of 1991, the commissioners considered calling for a referendum on the COPs issue, but decided against it.
They changed their minds after a firestorm of protest from municipal market participants, who warned that the county's ability to tap the bond markets would be impaired by a referendum.
Shortly before last week's election, municipal market participants again became concerned that Brevard County might renege on the COPs issue.
For example, Sanwa Bank Ltd. last week told the county that it could not approve its routine request for an additional $3 million draw on a commercial paper loan program run by the Florida Association of Counties.
The bank, which provides a letter of credit for the loan program, said it was rejecting the request because Moody's Investors Service recently warned that it is prepared to downgrade uninsured borrowings of Brevard County if the referendum is held.
Market participants seemed resigned yesterday to a referendum being held, and reiterated warnings that a decision to renege on the COPs financing would seriously undermine the county's access to the bond market.
"Because it looks like [the referendum] is going to happen, we can only urge voters in Brevard to look at all the facts and keep the government center in Viera," said Michael Ballinger, a vice president of corporate Communications at Municipal Bond Investors Assurance Corp. MBIA took over the insurance policy on the $23.9 million COPs issue from Bond Investors Guaranty Insurance Co. when it acquired the bond insurance company in 1989.
"A default on the lease would have immense negative consequences for Brevard's standing in the financial community both in terms of its ability to issue bonds and the increased borrowing costs it would bear," Ballinger continued. He also said that by the county's own estimate, it would cost $37 million to abandon the construction site.
"The commissioners in Brevard County have every right to hold a referendum, but they also ought to realize that there are certain implications if they do so," said John Incorvaia, a vice president at Moody's. "We stand by our position that we will take negative rating action if this happens."
Tom Holley, the county's financial adviser, said that as a result of the Municipal market's concerns, the county has placed on indefinite hold the sale of up to $22.5 million of solid waste revenue bonds that it had planned to issue last month.