Rewind 2015: October

Published 9:07 am Monday, January 4, 2016

From RCNH Archives

JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners voted in mid October to seek a supplemental education tax from taxpayers rather than the bond referendum the Board of Education requested earlier that month to build a central school for grades 7-12.

County Manager Kimberly Turner said after the board meeting that in the long run the supplemental tax would cost taxpayers less than the referendum.

Turner said that the Local Government Commission puts a 20-year term limit cap on repayment of debt if the county goes with the bond referendum.

Repaying a loan of $34 million with a 3.2 percent interest rate for 20 years, Turner said, would require the county to repay $2.3 million each year, which would be a 13 cents per $100 valuation tax increase for property owners.

She said that with the supplemental tax, the $34 million loan, possibly from USDA, could be repaid over 40 years.

This would mean that at the same interest rate annual repayment would be $1.5 million per year.

Taxes would be raised about 8.8 cents per $100 valuation for taxpayers to repay the loan.

The commissioners, therefore, voted to go for the supplemental tax.

Turner said the next step would be for the commissioners to adopt a resolution for the supplemental school tax at its Nov. 2 meeting. Once adopted, the commissioners will seek to have the matter put on the March 2016 ballot by the state. Northampton County voters will have the final say as to whether the central middle and high school project gets funded.

At their meeting a few nights earlier, the Northampton County Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously 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.

During the 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, to include a bond referendum, but the Commissioners later voted to proceed as planned by allowing the voters to decide on the supplemental property tax to pay for the new school.