Bond referendum favored

Published 8:04 am Thursday, October 15, 2015

JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously Monday night to pursue a new centrally located school for grades 7-12.

Superintendent Monica Smith-Woofter said that after discussions with eight different architects, the BOE should seek $34 million from county taxpayers for construction.

The costs differed between the consulting architects based upon inflation and other factors over the 40-year life of paying for the costs of the project.

BOE Attorney Rod Malone said the board might have to reduce the scope of the project because of potential inflation and building costs, but agrees with Woofter that $34 million should be requested.

Woofter pointed out that with an average property tax value in the county of $80,000, skewed high due to Lake Gaston properties, an increase in the property tax rate of .09 cents per $100 valuation would cost the average property owner about $90 per year. Currently, Northampton County property owners pay 92 cents per $100 of value.

BOE member Clinton Williams said that if a bond referendum were approved by voters, the tax rate would decrease over time.

The BOE and Board of County Commissioners, during mediation in July, agreed to a supplemental school tax to fund the new school, but Williams said the bond referendum would cost taxpayers less over the life of the 40-year loan.

He also said the new state-of-the-art school would bring students back to the district and might increase economic development and tax base throughout Northampton County.

“We need to get the county commissioners to support the bond referendum to the community,” said Williams.

The county commissioners need to make a decision by Nov. 2 to place it on the March ballot for voters to have their say, Malone said.

On Wednesday, County Manager Kimberly Turner said she had not heard from the BOE since the Monday night meeting. She added that the BOE not meeting the Oct. 12 deadline (to have the supplemental tax issue placed on the March 2016 ballot) did not matter. The county commissioners would review the BOE’s request for a bond referendum, when received, at an October meeting to meet the state’s Nov. 2 deadline.

During Monday’s BOE meeting, Williams asked, “Why should we have to convince the county commissioners, who are responsible for our facilities?”

He added that the school district and the county should share facilities to keep down the costs.

“They are shirking their responsibilities,” Williams said. “We could cut costs if the county commissioners worked with us.”

Malone said sharing facilities could save up to $2 million.

He added, “The county commissioners want the Board of Education to be responsible for any tax increase.”

Williams added, “There is a lot of politics.”

The BOE then unanimously approved the superintendent’s recommendations.