Roanoke City Council approved a bond agreement Monday that will allow the city to borrow $5 million. The money will not be attached to a specific project initially, but will be used for general improvements where needed throughout the city.

The move passed by a 4-1 vote of the council, with Tammi Holley giving the no vote.

It's the first time Roanoke has borrowed money since 2015, when the city took on a bond for improvements at Handley High School.

The city has already refunded that bond - in essence, a refinance of the debt for a lower interest rate - in a move that saved the city more than $400,000.

This new bond will put $5 million in the city's general fund and add six years to the existing repayment schedule, which now extends through 2041.

Council member Kesa Johnston is one of the biggest proponents of the move.

"I think it's a good thing for the city," she said. "This is something that a lot of municipalities do, and I see it as an opportunity to improve our city and take advantage of interest rates that are at a 24-year low."

The next step for the council and Mayor Jill Hicks is to determine the best use of the funds.

In general terms the money can be used for improvements or upgrades to city-owned property, new buildings or facilities where needed, or infrastructure improvements such as road paving.

"There are things that have been patched for so long, that if we don't fix them, we're going to have much bigger problems long term," Johnston said.

The city was able to borrow the money after it recently regained its S+P rating. That rating is the rough equivalent of a credit score for municipalities and other public entities that helps determine their ability to borrow money.

Roanoke has not had a rating for several years, so the current administration opted to hire Frazer Lanier, an investment firm out of Montgomery that specializes in helping municipalities with debt management.

Frazer Lanier advised the city on its earlier bond refund and has guided them through the process of acquiring this new bond.

Main Street building demolition

The city closed last week on the property at 803 Main St. and discussed the future of the property at Monday's city council meeting.

The consensus among the council is that the building, which sits immediately adjacent to city hall at the corner of Vaughn and Main streets, should be demolished. But the logistics of that process, including the size of the building and its proximity to surrounding structures, provided enough uncertainty that the council opted to table the matter for a future meeting.

Mayor Hicks said the state fire marshal recommends the city bid out the demolition to a certified contractor rather than trying to handle it in-house.

If the council follows that route, they will have to draw up a contract with the specifics of the work required before putting out a request for bids.

Airport grant application

The council also voted unanimously Monday to proceed with a grant application for funds that would be used to resurface the pavement at the Roanoke airport. The price tag for the project is an estimated $700,000, but if the grant is approved, it would cover 100 percent of those costs.

Paying for meeting attendance

The council unanimously agreed department heads who attend city council meetings should be paid for their time at the meeting. The council has made department head attendance mandatory, which led to the request from several of the city's employees.

More police officers

Roanoke Police Chief Jonathan Caldwell asked the council for its help with what he termed "critical staffing problems" within the police department.

According to Caldwell, the department currently has three open positions and three that are occupied by officers in training. He requested that the council allow him to hire three part-time or temporary officers and one dispatcher as a means to shore up the staffing issues.

The part-time officers would be certified officers from other law enforcement agencies who would be paid at the city's current hourly rate for certified officers, which is $15.81 per hour.

The council approved Caldwell's request, and the city will advertise the open positions for two weeks before deciding who to hire.

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