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N.C. voters pass infrastructure bond

election timeA majority of North Carolina voters approved a significant investment in the state’s future economy during the primary election by voting in favor of the Connect NC bond referendum.

Passed with 66 percent of the vote, the infrastructure bond will distribute $2 billion across the state for a number of projects, including new construction and renovations for universities and community colleges, state parks, water and sewer and public safety. 

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory initially put forth the bond last fall, and it garnered bipartisan support among state legislators and local governments. Not only will the bond money go toward much-needed infrastructure projects, but it will fund those needs without raising taxes and without increasing the state’s debt. Legislators who supported the bond said the state was paying off debt at such a rapid speed that this $2 billion wouldn’t make much of a difference and should be paid off within six years. 

Many complain that the western region of the state always seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to funding, but a large percentage of the bond funding will be heading this way.  


Higher ed leaders rejoice

Western Carolina University had the most to gain by the passing of the bond. The university will receive $110 million for a brand new science technology building on the Cullowhee campus. 

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“Through their endorsement of this bond proposal, the voters have indicated their willingness to make a significant and wise investment in the future of their state by supporting their public university and community college systems, as well as other state infrastructure needs,” said WCU Chancellor David Belcher.

Haywood Community College will receive $2.83 million for renovations and Southwestern Community College will receive $7.17 million for renovations and/or new construction on its three campuses. 

HCC President Dr. Barbara Parker said the Board of Trustees has not yet decided on which renovation projects will be completed with the bond money. However, she said there is a good chance the funding will go toward renovations to a 36-year-old building that houses biology and other science classes. 

Southwestern Community College, which has campuses in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, is slated to receive $7.1 million to begin tackling infrastructure needs. During the past two years, SCC has developed facility master plans for all three campuses that include more than $54 million worth of improvement needs. While the $7 million will just scratch the surface of the college’s needs, it’s a good start. The SCC Board of Trustees has not yet made any decisions on which projects will be completed with the bond funding. 

SCC President Don Tomas said he was very pleased with the bond outcome. 

“I am proud to live in a region of our state that recognizes and highly values the importance of education, safety, natural resources and infrastructure in our region and across this great state,” he said. “Our Board of Trustees, administrators, faculty and staff will work together to prioritize our most critical needs as identified through our master plans.”

If SCC or any other community college decides to use any of the allocated funding for a new construction project, the bond legislation requires that the county government match a quarter of the cost. But all those details are still left to be determined. 


Next steps

According to a memo to state department heads from State Budget Director Andrew Heath, a cross-agency working group has already begun coordinating project construction timelines so the infrastructure improvements can begin as soon as possible.

“This group is already working to schedule projects and anticipates the first bond issuance coming as early as July 2016,” Heath wrote. “The Office of State Budget and Management will lead the execution of bond projects in order to ensure that the State is fully accountable to citizens and taxpayers with the use of bond proceeds.”

Getting these projects off the ground is still probably years away, but WCU and the community colleges are moving forward with planning. 

Cathy Akroyd, public relations officer for the Department of Water Infrastructure, said the bonds would begin to be sold in July and project recipients would soon thereafter begin receiving funding on a monthly basis as they incur expenses for their projects. 


Other projects

In addition to funding for community colleges and universities, the bond will also provide $100 million for expansions and improvements to state parks and zoos, $179 million for agriculture, $78.5 million for public safety and National Guard facilities and creates a $312.5 million pool of grant funding for rural water and sewer projects. 

Chimney Rock State Park in Rutherford County and Grandfather Mountain State Park in Watauga County will both receive $1.5 million and Mount Mitchell State Park will receive $600,000. 

Akroyd said the bond funding for water and sewer infrastructure would be available through an application process similar to other grant programs. 

“Our funding programs have funding rounds in the fall and spring and bond funds will be incorporated into the normal funding rounds,” she said. “Bond funds will be targeted to rural systems and State Reserve Funds will be targeted toward medium and larger systems.”

For a complete list of bond projects, visit



Connect NC bond

• 35 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for or against the referendum 

• 66 percent voted for it

• 34 percent voted against it

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