Voters will get a chance to rule in on a $160 million school bond on the Nov. 2014 ballot despite opposition voiced by New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White.
The bond will fund improvements to county schools, including a $7.3 million project to renovate and expand Wrightsville Beach School facilities.
County Finance Director Lisa Wurtzbacher reported $160 million is the most the county can present to the public without exceeding its internal debt limit. Wurtzbacher estimated the tax impact of the bond’s debt requirement would add 3 cents to the county’s tax rate, although it could be as low as 0.5 cents and as high as 4.5 cents.
White acknowledged needs in the school system but said he could not accept the necessary tax hike needed to meet the debt obligation.
“I’m just not going to vote to raise taxes in a recovering economy. It’s that simple,” White said during the June 2 meeting.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. pledged to uphold the wishes of citizens, even if it requires a raise in the tax rate. He suggested citizens acknowledge and accept a tax raise when they vote in favor of a bond.
Although the recommended budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year maintains the current tax rate of 55.4 cents per $100, a 5 cent increase will be necessary before the 2015-16 fiscal year begins. County Manager Chris Coudriet said he would recommend an early adoption of the increase if the bond is approved.
White reiterated that could mean an overall tax increase of 9 cents. Barfield said the county currently enjoys a modest tax rate compared to other North Carolina counties.
The commissioners’ 3-1 vote to approve the bond referendum is only a formality. County Attorney Wanda Copley confirmed the bond must be presented to voters if the school board formally requested it, but commissioners can control debt issuance if voters approve the bond.
Additions and renovations to Wrightsville Beach School are at the bottom of a list of 14 priorities included in the current cap of $160 million. If approved, the school will undergo a $7.3 million project during the 2018-19 school year, expanding and modernizing existing space to move classes currently held in mobile units and the nearby Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church back into the building.
According to a timeline presented by Wurtzbacher, the bond order will be introduced during a July 21 meeting and a public hearing will take place during an August 11 meeting.
Check out the June 5 issue of Lumina News for the full story.