SOMERSET – Somerset County officials are exploring the idea of refinancing two separate existing bonds, in a move that could yield a savings of more than $120,000.

Somerset County Commissioners took a preliminary step Tuesday after discussing the idea with the county’s bond counsel Christopher Brewer and representatives from PNC Bank and financial advisory firm Susquehanna Group Advisors.

The county is focusing on a series of bonds issued in 2010 for more than

$2.5 million dollars and a 2015 series at nearly 4.8 million.

A breakdown of those bonds shows the 2015 Series C was issued to refinance earlier bonds dating back as far as 1998 and tied in project costs for a GIS mapping system, a Lincoln Township Sewer Project and a county airport hangar construction project, among others.

Water infrastructure project costs were covered through the 2010 “Series B” bonds, an itemized list provided by the county showed.

The move to explore refinancing the bonds was driven by ultra-low rates, said Brewer, a Pittsburgh-area attorney with Dinsmore & Shohl, noting that the 2010 bonds were issued because of rates then considered low due to the stimulus “recovery” act at the time.

Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said Brewer reached out to the county to notify them dropping rates made it worthwhile to consider refinancing again.

But rates can change, she added.

“The action we took today gives us the option to refinance,” County Solicitor Michael Barbera said, noting the county is under no obligation if rates don’t present the savings the county is eyeing.

“If the rates are attractive,” Tokar-Ickes said, “it’ll give us the option to pull the trigger.”

The county’s authorization Tuesday would enable the county to refinance up to $9 million.

Preliminary estimates indicate the county could save between $120,000 and $140,000 through the move – approximately one-tenth of a mill of taxes.

The commissioners that savings amount would likely be rolled into the general fund.

Public defender named

Tiffany Stanley is now the county’s official full-time public defender.

County officials named Stanley as the county’s first full-time public defender on Tuesday at an annual $72,000 salary.

The defense attorney has served as “acting” public defender since the man who previous led the office, William Carroll, resigned in May.

Tokar-Ickes said the county interviewed multiple candidates for the post, but said Stanley proved over the past five months that she has what it takes to lead the office.

She cited Stanley’s experience, commitment and enthusiasm as indicators she’ll be a strong public defender.

The county has been planning for the past year to transition the post to full-time after Country President Judge Gregory Geary announced plans to assign criminal cases to two courts in 2021. Until this year, the public defender post was a part-time job.

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David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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