Pender County approves placing $178 million school bond referendum on November ballot

Pender County approves placing $178 million school bond referendum on November ballot
Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) - The Pender County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on the $177.7 million school bond referendum at its meeting on August 1. Commissioners also discussed plans to fill the various spots left open after the retirement of former commissioner David Williams.

The school bond referendum was created to address problems of overcrowding at Pender County Schools and would include:

  • A new 1,200 student middle school: $67.64 million
  • A new 800 student K-5 elementary school: $43.92 million
  • Topsail Middle School renovation: $22.6 million
  • Rocky Point elementary addition: $1.21 million
  • Burgaw Middle School cafeteria rebuild: $4.27 million
  • Central services building and maintenance: $21 million
  • Eight bay maintenance building: $17.12 million

The county estimates that they will also pay an estimated $93 million in interest on the bonds.

“We’re not trying to prepare for anything, we’re trying to respond what has already happened,” said Steven Hill, superintendent at Pender County Schools.

At the meeting, Hill described the necessity of the bonds, particularly for the overcrowded elementary and middle schools in the Hampstead area. Even without taking into account population growth in the future, these additions are needed for the county to keep schools below capacity.

One audience member signed up to speak about the bond and expressed concerns about the cost and interest, and an email submitted to the board expressed opposition to the bond due to the cost as well. The county mentions plans to levy taxes to pay for the bonds in the referendum, but exact details on those taxes are sparse so far.

After the brief public hearing, the commissioners approved the motion to place the referendum on the November ballot unanimously.

Following the meeting, Vice-Chairwoman of the board, Jackie Newton said the power should be in the voters hands.

“I think it’s the better course of action, to give the voters the opportunity, realizing that it’s their children that we’re educating” said Newton. “It’s an investment in our children, it’s an investment in our future. It’s something that we have to do. We have to educate our children, we have to provide facilities to educate our children, fortunately, and unfortunately, our population is growing so fast, and they’re bringing their children and we’re running out of space.”

The commissioners opened a discussion into how committee assignments will be divided, particularly because of the many positions left open after Williams retired. One of these positions is a spot on the New Hanover Regional Hospital Board.

Pender County currently has an agreement with Novant Health for them to operate Pender Medical Center and Pender Memorial Hospital. While continuing with Novant Health is an option, commissioners have previously expressed openness to other ideas as well. The county’s agreement with Novant will expire if left as-is on July 17, 2023.

Since this was just a discussion, the appointment to the hospital board will occur on a later date.

You can find the full meeting agenda packet and recording on the Pender County Website.

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