Orange BoCC Backs Off 2014 Bond Referendum

By Elizabeth Friend Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:46 pm

CHAPEL HILL- Both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing multi-million dollar repairs to fix up aging facilities, but Orange County Commissioners worry there’s not enough time to put together a $100 million dollar bond package before a September deadline to get it on the ballot for the General Election.

“I’m a little concerned that if we shoot for 2014 we’re not going to do a very good job of getting everything in place and take a chance that it will not pass,” said Board Vice-Chair Earl McKee.

He and fellow board members are also wary of taking up bond planning while the county is in the process of searching for a new manager, a search that’s taking longer than expected.

At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners expressed little interest in pushing to meet the deadline for a ballot measure this year, instead eyeing the timing of future referendums.

But some, including Mark Dorosin, worry rural residents would be disenfranchised if the county-wide bond went to the voters in 2015, when only municipal races are on the ballot.

“If you look back at the turnout for an “off” year versus an “on” year mid-term election, there’s more than 25 percent greater turnout,” said Dorosin.

Instead, commissioners said they’d consider May 2016, when turnout is expected to be high for the presidential and gubernatorial primaries, though the board did not rule out the possibility of putting the measure up for a vote next year.

Commissioners say they want input from staff on the timing and process of crafting a bond package, as well as more information from both school systems about what projects are top priorities.

The last bond referendum in 2001 netted the county an additional $75 million for school, parks, senior centers and housing. The proposed $100 million dollar bond would be the county’s largest in recent history. But even that would be a drop in the bucket, as the school districts’ combined list of repairs is estimated to be more than the county’s entire $192 million dollar annual operating budget.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs said voters should know the upcoming bond referendum could be the first of several.

“The needs are too big for one bond cycle, so we say that we’re going to have several bonds over a period of time to address several hundred million dollars worth of school needs for both systems,” said Jacobs.

The board will discuss creating a possible bond planning task force in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Chapel Hill Town Council is eyeing its own $20 million dollar bond package to replace or upgrade aging facilities. That measure could potentially go on the ballot in 2017.

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