ATLANTA -- Hillsborough County, Fla.'s commissioners Wednesday approved a $70 million tax-exempt commercial paper program that will allow the county to proceed with a number of projects, including a sports stadium to be used as a spring training facility for the New York Yankees.

The county is also preparing to bring to market its long-awaited sale of about $120 million of solid waste refunding bonds, according to Edwin J. Hunzeker, assistant county administrator for financial services. The competitive offering is scheduled for the next few weeks.

"It's been a busy time for us," Hunzeker said. "The commercial paper program gives us the breathing room to proceed with some projects while the details of fixed-rate funding for them are worked out. And the solid-waste refunding is something we have been working on for a long time."

The commercial paper will be used to provide temporary financing for four projects, Hunzeker said. They are: the baseball stadium, with an estimated $20 million price tag; a $20 million countywide radio communications system; $20 million of transportation projects; and a $10 million program to acquire environmentally sensitive land.

Michael Merrill, Hillsborough County's director of debt management, said the county considered setting up its own commercial paper program, but decided it would be more practical to participate in a pool set up in 1991 and administered by the Florida Association of Counties.

Currently, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Manatee, Osceola, Brevard, Sarasota, and Polk counties participate in the program, which is known as the Florida Local Government Finance Commission pool. The letter of credit for the program is provided by First Union Bank.

"There is no way we could have gotten an in-house program up and running this quickly," Merrill said. At current interest rates, tax-exempt loans under the county association's program will be available at an interest rate of about 3%, he said.

Merrill said that the loan pool will set the maturity length of the loan. The pool will also charge a 31-basis-point fee to hold open the line of credit and a 38-basis-point fee on drawdowns.

Tax-exempt commercial paper, like its taxable cousin, is a short-term unsecured note that is typically backed by a bank letter of credit. The note can extend to 270 days in maturity and can be rolled over into a new commercial paper issuance at market rates.

Merrill said that the first drawdown will probably occur at the end of June. The county plans to borrow about $5.5 million to cover $3.9 million of initial construction costs for the sports stadium, which will be county-owned, and $1.6 million for to purchase four acres of property near the county's administration center. The property, which is unrelated to the stadium project, will initially be used as a parking facility, he said.

Groundbreaking for the stadium is expected this month, with construction expected to be complete by the end of 1995, Merrill said. The commercial paper financing for the project is to be paid off by the end of the year through a bond issue secured with part of the county's hotel-motel tax revenues, he said.

Last October, the county's commissioners voted to pledge the hotel-motel tax to the stadium. However, lease payments and other revenues from the ballpark are expected to cover debt service.

Merrill said that he expects the solid waste refunding to receive final approval from the county commissioners at their next scheduled meeting on June 15. If the issue gets the go-ahead, it would probably be sold within the next two weeks after that, he said.

The county is discussing the financing with insurers and the rating agencies and plans to conduct meetings with potential investors in New York City, Hartford, Boston, and Chicago the week after next.

The commissioners, Merrill said, have approved the concept of refinancing $121.8 million of outstanding county waste debt. The decision to issue the bonds on a competitive basis was made a month ago, he said.

"We decided to go this route because we felt it was the simplest and most cost effective," he said.

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