Roanoke-Chowan will benefit with Connect NC

Published 12:11 pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

Joyce Dilbeck of Colerain casts her ballot on Tuesday during the 2016 Primary Election. She was among the 3,926 registered voters to cast a ballot in Bertie County where turnout was nearly 28 percent. Statewide, voter turnout was 35.35 percent. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Joyce Dilbeck of Colerain casts her ballot on Tuesday during the 2016 Primary Election. She was among the 3,926 registered voters to cast a ballot in Bertie County where turnout was nearly 28 percent. Statewide, voter turnout was 35.35 percent. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to borrow $2 billion to pay for a laundry list of infrastructure projects under the umbrella of Connect NC

The bond package backed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as Democratic leaders, won two-thirds of the vote statewide. Their argument was the state has added two million people since the last borrowing package was approved in 2000, and that kind of growth and the passage of time requires spending money. McCrory actually asked for a bigger bond package to include road and bridge projects, but the General Assembly turned that down, opting instead to pay for roads through transportation funds.

McCrory toured the state Wednesday celebrating the passage of the $2 billion bond proposal.

“The people of North Carolina sent a strong message to the nation that working together can make a difference,” the Governor said. “This was a bi-partisan effort with Republicans and Democrats from the mountains to the coast, both in the legislative and executive branches, coming together to accomplish something that will have a significant impact for the next generation.”

The governor extended thanks to the General Assembly, the bipartisan Connect NC Committee and the people of North Carolina for making Connect NC possible.

About two-thirds of the bond and grant monies will go toward new buildings, repairs and renovations at all UNC system and community college campuses.

The rest would go for local government water and sewer projects and construction money for parks, the North Carolina Zoo, the National Guard and the Department of Agriculture.

There wasn’t much organized opposition to the bond bill. Critics said there were unnecessary projects on the list, and the things that needed to be built or repaired could be paid for without borrowing. But they acknowledged that defeating the measure would be a tough fight.

Bond supporters said the state should not have to raise taxes to pay back the debt. They also said North Carolina’s debt load should be less by 2020 than it is today, even with the additional borrowing. A state debt affordability study also says the new debt shouldn’t affect the state’s triple-A bond rating which keeps borrowing costs low.

“The money that’s put into education and infrastructure is badly needed,” said Hertford County Economic Development Commission Executive Director William “Bill” Early. “They (colleges) are important to economic development because training of our workforce is critical.”

The bond package will give $980 million for the University of North Carolina system with many construction projects on 14 campuses targeting science, math and engineering. All 58 community colleges in North Carolina will split $350 million, with local matching funds needed for new construction.

“I am just thrilled about the outcome,” said Roanoke-Chowan Community College president Dr. Michael Elam. “We’re going to be able to do so much with the $6.8 million that we will be getting out of that. Projects we have slated include financing our Energy Management System, our “potty-project” will get a lot of the bathroom facilities in our buildings up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specs, and that’s because most of our buildings were built prior to ADA requirements. We’ll also get the roof repaired and make this a world-class facility that our students and staff we be excited to use.

“A lot of people worked hard to get the word out,” Elam continued. “We owe a lot to them that they caught the vision and that they were able to get out there to use their time and talent to tell people about this opportunity. We’re just glad it’s come into fruition.”

Dr. Ann Britt, President of Martin County Community College, states, “MCC is slated to receive just over $6.5 million of the bond funds (a portion of which will be used for the Bertie campus is Windsor). We are certainly thrilled to have such a substantial infusion of capital funding for our 40+ year old campus.”

Britt adds, “At present, the top three projects identified in our Facilities Master Plan are the construction of a new building as well as extensive renovations and repairs to the MCC campus entrance and its four buildings. However, the MCC Trustees will ultimately determine which projects outlined in the Capital Improvement Plan get top priority.”

More than 40 state parks will share $75 million under Connect-NC. The state will spend $70 million to construct National Guard readiness centers in Guilford, Burke and Wilkes counties and $25 million to replace the Africa Pavilion at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

“It helps us with the National Guard since we already have a facility here,” said Bertie County Economic Development Executive Director Steve Biggs. “I’m sure some of that’s going to trickle down to our readiness and repair station, so I see it as just an absolute positive.”

“With the monies that are going into parks and recreation, even though it’s not in Hertford County, Merchant’s Millpond (in Gates County) is slated to get some funds and that will increase travel and tourism into the area; if it comes into Gates, some of it will eventually come over to Hertford County,” Early added.

“One of our County Commissioner’s’ clusters has been tourism,” said Biggs. “We’d like to see improvements to the ‘Mountains to the Sea’ trails (biking and hiking). While we don’t have state parks here in Bertie County, people will have to travel through here and hopefully spend some of their travel and tourism dollars here.”

Nearly $310 million will go to water and wastewater system projects, with $100 million of the amount earmarked for grants and the rest for loans.

“The $309 million statewide going for water and sewer loans and grants will greatly aid with infrastructure improvements, especially with wastewater treatment, because nowadays that is so expensive and costly,” Early concluded.

“With all the small towns we have, many are always needing water and wastewater (sewer) grants,” said Biggs.

“This helps everybody in our area,” said Elam. “Now this at least defers or delays our reasoning to have to go to the counties for additional capital outlay. Things not in the repair-renovation-new construction category will go to the counties to get funds to fund those items. This will go a long way to get us caught up.”

The Council of State will have to sign off on issuing the debt, but that’s just a routine step since lawmakers have already decided where the money will be spent.