Capital projects include purchases of land, buildings, and equipment; construction of buildings, roads, and bridges; renovation of buildings; and other such improvements that last for many years. Just as in the business world, governmental financing of capital projects involves short-term financing in the form of notes and permanent financing in the form of long-term notes or bonds. In some rare cases, counties levy taxes to fund capital projects.  Regardless of the type of financing, the county legislative body must authorize the funding of such projects.  Once the method of financing the capital project is approved, the county legislative body must establish a means of paying the principal and interest on the debt created.  This process involves establishing of a debt service fund (sometimes referred to as a debt retirement or sinking fund)  and imposing a tax or taxes, frequently the property tax or local option sales tax, to retire the debt.

The Tennessee State Funding Board requires counties issuing debt after January 1, 2012 to adopt a written debt management policy that must contain certain minimum requirements. This guidance is intended to guide counties in complying with the State Funding Board's requirement. The minimum topics required are-

  • debt,
  • transparency and disclosure,
  • conflicts of interest,
  • costs, and
  • professionals.

Several steps are involved in initiating a capital project, often beginning with an architect or engineer. When a county decides that a capital project is necessary, the county legislative body may adopt a resolution authorizing funds to contract with an architect, engineer, or consultant service to prepare preliminary plans and cost estimates.  According to T.C.A. § 62-2-107, all contracts for construction and maintenance exceeding $50,000 must be under the supervision of a licensed architect or engineer.   

Unless the county has the staff and expertise, the services of a financial advisor or bond fiscal agent may be helpful.  T.C.A. § 9-21-110. An agent of this type can be of assistance to the county in preparing financial statements, legal opinions, and proper resolutions, in advertising the sale of the notes or bonds, in assisting the county in the timing of the issue, and in seeking bids for issuance.  Financial advisors, bond placement agents and underwriters are required to file with the county an estimate of the cost of any debt issuance, including financial advisory fees and related fees and costs before the placement agent or underwriter enters into a bond purchase agreement or bond placement agreement with the county.  T.C.A. § 9-21-151. If a county wishes to engage the services of a financial advisor, it is recommended that the county use a Request for Proposals (RFP); CTAS staff can assist the county with preparation of the RFP and solicitation of proposals.

If the county authorizes funding of bonds or notes without the assistance of a financial advisor, the county should call upon the director of local finance in the state comptroller's office or the CTAS county government consultant to provide assistance with the necessary resolutions to authorize the funding. CTAS staff may help the county in the planning stage to determine the projected cost of a debt retirement plan and projected funding sources to retire the debt.

There are many statutes authorizing both long-term notes and bonds, as well as short-term financing notes.  Counties must review their financing requirements to determine which type of bonds or notes would be best for the capital project being considered.  However, before considering any bond or note issue, counties are urged to seek the assistance of a financial advisor, the director of local finance in the state comptroller's office, or the CTAS county government consultant for the area.