HCS needs a new bond referendum

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 5/28/21

Now that the bidding process for Harnett County Schools’ latest project entered its final stages, it could be quite some time before a new one begins.

Former County Manager Paula Stewart, …

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HCS needs a new bond referendum

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Now that the bidding process for Harnett County Schools’ latest project entered its final stages, it could be quite some time before a new one begins.

Former County Manager Paula Stewart, earlier this month during a joint meeting between county commissioners and the HCS Board of Education, said money from a 2014 bond referendum is about spent and there isn’t enough left over to fund any additional construction projects.

Voters passed a $100 million referendum seven years ago that provided money to build three county schools — Benhaven Elementary ($29.5 million), Erwin Elementary ($27.5 million) and the new Northwest Harnett Elementary School ($28.1 million). The county plans to issue the NW Harnett funds in July, leaving not quite $15 million remaining. As bid estimates from the new school showed, recently, that money equates to less than half a campus and the price isn’t going down any time soon.

“It’s been said we need at least four new schools,” Stewart said. “After this next draw down in July, we’re not going to have any more money for a new school. In order to do that, in the end, we’ll have to issue a [general obligation] bond referendum to help pay for the school construction.”

HCS submitted a 2021-22 budget filled with construction projects, from new schools to extensive renovations at several campuses. Superintendent Aaron Fleming said HCS needs a new high school and middle school, along with additions at Highland and Overhills elementary schools, as a few of the projects the school system has to address in the coming years.

Board of Education members, earlier this year, voted to pursue a $250 million bond to be used for school construction. Fleming said a bond campaign is a process that cannot use public funding and needs support from the private sector.

“I’ve worked on a couple successful bond campaigns and you do have to have private funds to do any type of marketing of the bond,” said Fleming. “We have the education foundation and I think the few individuals involved in that would be interested in helping on a bond campaign. In my experience, it does take some preparation and time to get the word out of what it will go for and what it will ultimately cost the taxpayers.”

Should the county proceed with a referendum, once it receives a projected amount from the school board, Stewart said everything would need to be finished by August for it to appear on next November’s ballot.

If voters elect to approve the bond, they grant commissioners more power in regards to their taxing authority in order to pay what is essentially a loan.

“If the voters go to the polls and approve that $250 million, someone does not put $250 million into the county’s account,” Harnett County Finance Director Kimberly Honeycutt said in March. “When we issue those bonds, we actually issue debt. If a tax increase is needed at the time, that bond order actually gives our commissioners the authority to raise property taxes to cover it. When those citizens are going to the polls they are saying yes that they want this so bad I am authorizing you Mr. Commissioner to raise my property tax to pay for it.”

The guaranteed maximum price of $39.6 million on the NW Harnett Elementary School project this week came in higher than expected as materials such as steel and wood continue to go up at an unprecedented rate, inflating construction costs nationally. HCS received a $10 million grant from the state this year in exchange for 5 years worth of lottery funding to help pay for the project.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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Ahawley

Unless you have worked their you dont have a clue what goes on behind the walls.Unless your in the family or one of the good ole boys you will NOT be promoted,and if you ask a question that steps on their toes your threatened with demotion or resigning,I know.

Saturday, May 29, 2021