Sales and Use Tax refunds may help pay for high school land purchase

Published 4:57 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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JACKSON – If approved at the next county commissioner meeting later this month, Northampton County will have the opportunity to claim Sales and Use Tax refunds from the upcoming high school construction project.

The Board of Commissioners were presented with the interlocal agreement proposal at their workshop meeting on Sept. 6.

As previously reported by the News Herald, Northampton County Schools received a $50 million grant last year to construct a new centrally-located high school. That grant – from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund – would cover the construction costs, but not the expense to purchase land for the new site. In January 2023, School Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins went before the county commissioners to request funds to be used for that purchase. The commissioners approved a $1.5 million allocation for a 63-acre parcel located just north of the Jackson town limits on Highway 305.

The proposal presented at the Sept. 6 meeting would allow Northampton County to enter into a lease agreement with the county Board of Education to be able to receive the Sales and Use Tax refunds resulting from expenditures during the construction of the new school. As noted by Board Attorney Scott McKellar, school boards are not allowed to claim those tax refunds themselves.

“It’s a lease in name only. The school system will remain the sole agent in charge of constructing the new facility,” explained McKellar. “This is just a legal mechanism for the county to recoup some of the expenses for the purchase of the land.”

Board Chair Charles Tyner expressed his excitement about the opportunity, estimating that they may even receive back in taxes more than the original land purchase cost. But he also noted that it could take a year and a half or more to recoup those funds.

Tyner also stated that the proposal would be “great for the taxpayers” because it’ll make up for what the county had to put in for the purchase.

The rest of the discussion centered on the commissioners requesting small changes to the agreement terms, such as defining how often reports are made to the board and when specifically the agreement would terminate. McKellar said he would make the revisions by the next meeting (Sept. 18) where the board is expected to vote to approve or deny the proposal.

In July of this year, the Northampton County Board of Education approved the school’s design by RATIO Design Architects.

Along with the main classroom building, the school campus will also include a football stadium and track (with seating for 1,500 people), a fieldhouse, a multipurpose practice field (to be used for P.E. and other athletics), baseball and softball fields, a promenade leading to the stadium, and an outdoor classroom space.

The T-shaped school building will include a wing dedicated to core classrooms (English, math, science, etc) and another for Career and Technical Education classes. Special education classrooms will also be included, as well as “collaborative commons” areas for students to work together outside of the classroom.

The building will also have administrative offices, a dining area, media center, gym, and an auditorium (able to seat 250 people).

If the project remains on schedule, construction is expected to begin in December 2024 and conclude June 2026.