Public hearing on school bond planned

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The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners took steps toward presenting a $160 million school bond to county voters this fall.

During a July 21 meeting, the board set a date for a public hearing on the bond referendum and approved early actions requested by New Hanover County Schools in anticipation of the bond.

Lisa Wurtzbacher, county finance director, introduced and explained the bond order.

If approved by voters, the $160 million bond will fund construction of a new 595-student elementary school, demolition and reconstruction of Blair Elementary and College Park Elementary schools, renovations and additions to Wrightsville Beach Elementary School, and building and technology infrastructure improvements to all schools.

The board is authorized to raise or reduce the amount of the bond, and also to levy taxes to cover debt obligation as the bonds come due.

Wurtzbacher said the average tax impact of the bond over its 20-year life is 3 cents. The tax impact will be higher at the beginning of the debt’s life cycle, with 4 cents of the tax rate dedicated to payment of bonds in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

A county property tax increase is already on the horizon. County manager Chris Coudriet warned commissioners during a May 19 presentation of the 2014-15 fiscal year budget that a 5-cent increase in the 2015-16 fiscal year will be necessary to meet debt obligations from voter-approved bonds in 2006 and 2008.

The board approved a resolution to schedule a public hearing on the bond during an Aug. 11 meeting. At that meeting, the board will call for the referendum to be included on the Nov. 4 ballot and adopt the bond order.

In order for school officials to proceed with the $16.9 million project to construct the new elementary school in the northeastern part of the county, commissioners agreed to create a capital project fund and transfer $782,677 from the general fund to begin designing the school.

The county has committed resources to complete construction of the new school if the bond is not approved, in which case additional money will be added to the capital project fund to pay for the project. If the bond is approved, the general fund will be reimbursed.

New Hanover County schools are currently 3,500 students over capacity with 3,000 new students expected by 2020.

Construction of the new school is scheduled to begin January 2016.

A swing site is needed while Blair Elementary, College Park Elementary and Wrightsville Beach Elementary undergo construction. The school board approved a contract to purchase property at 5301 Sidbury Road in Castle Hayne to serve as the swing site. Previously Rock Church, the 79.69-acre plot includes a 52,484-square foot building already designed with classrooms.

The site will be used by the school district after all three elementary schools reopen in August 2019.

The property, valued at $4 million, will be sold at $3.6 million. Although the cost will come out of the New Hanover County Schools fund balance, commissioners were required to approve the price of the purchase before the sale is final.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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