There’s been a lot of talk this year about the need for a new school bond referendum on the ballot in November to pay for school construction and repairs.
However, one thing that must be worked out in order for that to happen is that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners needs to come to an agreement on an amount. Right now, there’s nothing close to a consensus.
There are a lot of steps that must be taken before a bond can be put on the ballot, so the issue is one that’s coming to a head right now – and the Board of Commissioners is expected to have an in-depth discussion on the matter when it holds it’s two-day commissioners retreat on Monday, Feb. 24 and Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Democratic Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said this week that the needs of Guilford County Schools come to at least $2 billion, and he wants to see a $1-billion referendum on the ballot later this year.
“We need to do right by the schools,” he said.
Alston said the rest of the needed school capital money could be raised in future bond referendums.
Alston also said Guilford County could raise and pay back $1 billion without increasing property taxes if it also put a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot and voters approved it. When it was pointed out to Alston that that measure had always failed in the past when placed on the ballot, he said he believes it will pass this year.
“This time it might be different – we need to widely publicize the school’s needs,” he said.
Republican Commissioner Alan Branson isn’t feeling quite so generous right now. On Thursday, Feb. 20, Branson suggested his own number for the school bond, 2022.
As in – wait until the year 2022 to put a bond referendum on the ballot.
Branson said he’s still considering options, but he thinks that whenever the bond does go on the ballot it might be more sensible for that referendum to be between $350 million and $500 million. And he added that doing so two years from now might make more sense than doing so this year.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said he’s heard some discussion about not putting a bond referendum on the ballot this November, but he does think there will be one for voters to decide this year.
He said that it’s vital to make sure the amount of that bond debt would be something Guilford County can take on without burdening property tax payers. Phillips, who is not running for another term as county commissioner this year, said he thinks it’s possible to issue a bond, structure it correctly, and not have to raise property taxes.
“It’s complex and there are a lot of variables, “ Phillips said.
He added that he does think there’s a good number between $0 and $1 billion that could be satisfactory to all the parties. He said that $700 million appears to be a number that sounds roughly right to many school and county officials at this time. Phillips said the county would likely be able to absorb a hit of that amount since the county wouldn’t raise all that money at once.
“The bonds would still need to be issued sequentially, in phases,” Phillips said. “That’s normal.”
He also said that too large of a bond referendum would put the Board of Commissioners in an awkward financial position.
“Regardless of where we land on the school bonds referendum decision, there’s one thing that’s certain – I refuse to support an amount on the ballot that I think could back my board colleagues into a corner where I believe there is a strong possibility of significant property tax increases,” he said. “That kind of reckless decision-making hasn’t occurred since I’ve been on this board and it will be no different for me in my final year of service.”