NHC Commissioners approve school bond referendum - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Commissioners approve school bond referendum

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The NHC school system has more than $280 million in capital improvement needs, including building new schools and renovating current ones. The NHC school system has more than $280 million in capital improvement needs, including building new schools and renovating current ones.
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) -

New Hanover County Commissioners voted to approve a school bond referendum totaling $160 million Monday night.

Superintendent Tim Markley presented a bond proposal to county commissioners last month. Markley originally asked for more than $280 million in capital improvement needs, including building new schools and renovating current ones.

School Board Chairman, Don Hayes said he hoped commissioners would add a school bond referendum to the November ballot to help pay for the top 25 projects on the board's priority list.

"With 40 school buildings and capital budget amounts down, it's gotten to the point now where it's imperative to take action," Hayes said. "I think the County Commissioners are working with us on that."

Superintendent Tim Markley said this bond referendum is needed for the rapid growth of the county.

"The students are still coming. You're looking at more mobile units, you're looking at overcrowding continuing in the schools, You're looking at lots of redistricting on an annual basis," Markley said.

Markley said the county needs this money because the district's adding 1,000 students each year. He said if the bond isn't passed the county might resort to multi-tracking which has groups of students attending school at different times with different vacations. 

Although the commissioners agree county schools need some improvements, they differ in how to accomplish it.

"Routine maintenance, you know it's almost like your home, if you don't do routine maintenance eventually you're going to spend more money than not," Commissioner Jonathan Barfield noted. "And so in my opinion we need to spend money on those capital needs now, and make sure we can protect those investments long term."

The school board has said this is the smallest amount necessary to handle the district's capital improvement needs, which totals $284 million.

The Commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of the referendum. Commissioner Chair Woody White was the only one to vote against it.

"It's unsustainable and at some point we're going to have to say stop with the debt, and make tough choices," White explained. "And I believe we can fund our education needs if we just sit down and think of innovative ways of revenue and not raising taxes."

Commissioner White said the county's debt has significantly increased over the last few years and the county needs to have a long-term plan and not put all of its eggs in the bond basket. If the voters approve the referendum in November, County Manager Chris Coudriet said tax rates will need to be raised 3-4 cents to cover outstanding debt costs.

Before the bond proposal is officially added to the ballot, commissioners will host a public hearing in August, with voters making the ultimate decision to accept or deny the $160 million bond referendum in November.

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