Passing school bonds in Macon could prove a tough sell
If retirees Fred Plesner and Ray Behr are any indication of how voters in Macon County are reacting to a vote on $64 million in bonds, Macon County’s leaders could find that November is a cold month indeed.
“It’s poor timing,” said Plesner, who questioned why county leaders would attempt such a referendum on the heels of a countywide property reevaluation.
Behr, a fellow member of the Macon County Gem and Mineral Society who, like Plesner, was working at the group’s museum in Franklin last week, agreed.
“I want to support children, but there are a lot more senior citizens who live here,” Behr said. “Why so many millions of dollars on schools?”
For the schools, exactly $42.1 million is at stake, which would go toward capital needs such as new buildings and facilities. The remainder of the referendum breaks down like this, with each bond representing a separate up-or-down vote:
• Public buildings bonds — $6.5 million for expansion or new facilities for senior services, social services and emergency services.
• Community college bonds — $3 million to help pay for a second building on the Southwestern Community College campus in Macon County.
• Parks and recreational facilities bonds — $9.4 million to improve and expand the existing park and other county recreational facilities. This would include new athletic fields and indoor recreation facilities.
• Library bonds — $3 million to help Highlands expand and renovate its library. Franklin just built and opened a new library.
“There won’t be neutrality,” County Manager Sam Greenwood said of the upcoming referendum. “People who come out will be those voters who are either for it or against it.”
Greenwood said SCC and the individual county departments that are seeking bond money “will have to make their cases and sell it to the public. They will have to convince them it is a worthy project.”
The stand-alone nature of the proposed bonds could play in the county’s favor. Behr, for instance, questioned the reality of the schools system’s needs, but said he probably would vote in favor of money for a new library in Highlands.
At Smoky Mountain Pets and Grooming, a pet supply company on Porter Street in Franklin, Debbie Uccetta and co-worker Karen Sanford weren’t as decisive as Behr. But both of these two mothers of school-aged children agreed that there are real needs for the county’s youngest residents.
“I think the schools are in sad shape,” said Uccetta, who has two children currently attending Macon County Schools. “They need work. As Macon keeps growing it’s getting worse.”
Uccetta and Sanford were both negative about how they believe the schools in Macon County are managed. Sanford’s child is no longer enrolled in the public school system, and she questioned giving Macon County Schools more funding. Instead, the dog groomer said she’d throw her support behind money for recreation.
“There is really nothing here for the kids,” she said. “They can’t do anything.”
The proposed recreation center in Franklin would include indoor pools and basketball courts, plus an indoor track. Such facilities have become the norm in many Western North Carolina towns, with Waynesville boasting two — one town-run and the other managed by the hospital. There is a similar facility on the Cherokee Indian Reservation that is owned and operated by the tribe.
Operational details and schematics for the various projects are being worked up now as the departments prepare for public presentations, Greenwood said.
Dottie Tari, who along with her husband owns Gem World on U.S. 441 south of Franklin, will be one of those residents who scrutinize each bond project before heading to the polls.
“I’m not going to go in and just vote blindly because they say they need it,” said Tari, who, like so many living here, retired to Macon County via Florida. “Why do you need it?”
Greenwood said that one reason so many bonds are being put before voters is that Macon County’s building program hasn’t kept pace with its growth.
“We’re so behind on a number of these facility issues that this is a catch-up-now in one fell swoop,” he said.
The vote would likely be held on Nov. 6 when town elections are scheduled. This is an off-election year for the county.
What would it cost?
(Amortization summary for segments of debt possibilities)
• $1 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $64,706; millage rate .074 cents.
• $10 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $647,068; millage rate .740 cents.
• $20 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $1,294,136; millage rate 1.479 cents.
• $40 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $2,588,272; millage rate 2.958 cents.
• $60 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $3,882,408; millage rate 4.437 cents.
• $80 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $5,176,544; millage rate 5.916 cents.
• $90 million at 5 percent for a term of 30 years: Annual payment $5,823,612; millage rate 6.66 cents.