What’s Next?

Published 10:09 am Monday, November 28, 2016

GATESVILLE – Now that the voters of Gates County have spoken and are opposed to plan to increase property taxes to build a new middle school, the question is what do school officials here do next.

According to the now certified totals, Gates County voters defeated a referendum that called for an additional 12 cents on the property tax rate to be used to build the new school by a margin of 2,891 (56.56%) to 2,220 (43.44%).

The turnout was 63.15 percent as 5,421 of the county’s 8,584 voters cast ballots in this election cycle.

Responding to the defeat, Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Schools, said the county citizens have spoken.

“This is democracy, but the end result will cost the taxpayers more because the conditions of the school will not improve and our students will suffer the end result of one of the most important elections in Gates County,” Williams said.

The Superintendent added that the he and members of the Gates County Board of Education worked hard in advance of the election to encourage citizens to approve the measure. Jointly they held several informational workshops throughout the county where plans were share about replacing the aging middle school. It was estimated that a new school would cost $16 million.

Williams said the fact-based presentations, community forums, newspaper articles, phone messages and videos on the school system’s webpage illustrated the need for a new school.

“As stated previously in a community forum, the consequences of the election will eventually cost the citizens more in the long run since the cost of building materials continue to rise in the future,” Williams noted. “Additionally, and I hope I am wrong, the liability due to the vote not passing will be costly to the county. The county will accrue the costs and the taxpayers will have to pay legal fees for the negligence of not addressing the multiple issues of an unsafe facility.”

One of the major downsides to the measure being defeated is that Gates County now must return the $6 million to the state that was earmarked for this construction project.

“The Qualified School Construction Bond was interest free and Gates County will not have this opportunity in the future for many, many years,” Williams stated. “As I serve on the Superintendent’s Advisory Board for the Northeast region for the State in renovations and the construction of new facilities, the money will be offered to the next school district as we will fall to the bottom of the list of 115 school districts, not counting charter schools.”

Meanwhile, Williams wanted to thank the county citizens that voted for the new school.

“While this campaign didn’t end the way we hoped, I’m so inspired by the hope from the parents, prayers by our employees and voice from the citizens who spoke positive about the school system and our children during my campaign visits in the community.

“Please remember the next step does not rest at the doors of the school system,” Williams added. “As you know we receive our capital outlay funding through the county. We will ask the county commissioners for local funding in the spring of 2017.”

Williams noted that Gates County Schools annually receives a capital outlay in the amount of $200,000 for maintenance, repairs and upgrades of all facilities.

In the school construction tax referendum, the measure was favored by the majority of those casting One-Stop (early voting) absentee, and provisional ballots by a slim margin (1,176 to 1,162).

The tide turned against the tax on election day (Nov. 8). There it was defeated in five of the county’s six precincts. The most lopsided margin of opposition came in Precinct 3 (Gates district) where 453 voted against the measure compared to 191 in favor.

The proposed tax was also defeated in precincts 2 (Eure: 276-151), 4 North (Corapeake: 375-188), 4 South (Sunbury: 161-146), and 5 (Hobbsville: 270-169).

It was favored by a slim margin (199-194) in Precinct 1 (Gatesville).

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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