Editorial: Hey Voters! Those Bonds Add Up Over Time...

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 06 May 2015 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

County Manager Chris Coudriet delivered a proposed budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year to the Board of Commissioners on Monday May 4th. That budget proposes a 5 cent property tax increase raising the rate to 60.4 cents per $100 of assessed value. Combine that with the fact that the City of Wilmington is looking at an increase of as much as two and a half to three cents on their property tax rate, and it could be bad news for County residents and even worse for those living in the City of Wilmington.
Coudriet said the additional $15 million that would be generated by the increase will go entirely to paying debt incurred from $342 million dollars of bonds approved by the voters over the last eight years.
He explained, "The basis for the proposed property tax increase is to exclusively service debt obligations the County currently faces for voter-approved bonds in 2006 and 2008. In 2006 67% percent of those voting approved $18 million for mostly unincorporated park development, and in 2008 62% percent of those voting approved $164 million for new Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) facilities. In FY15-16 the County will pay fully on the 2006 and 2008 bonds at a cost of $15+ million."
Commissioners Woody White, Skip Watkins, Rob Zapple and Beth Dawson all expressed a need for more information and for Coudriet and his staff to take a harder prioritized look at the budget to save money rather than raise taxes.
Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield basically told the Board and the Public, "There's a phrase that everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" and that voters who cast ballots to approve of higher taxes were smart enough to know their bills would go up.
The bottom line is, the County is faced with paying debt on bonds approved since 2006 and it's all getting ready to snatch more money from the wallets of taxpayers who are in fact disconnected from the reality of the impacts of bond referendums. They vote for parks bonds and community college bonds but are largely disconnected from government spending until their tax bill goes up and then they start paying attention.
That's why leaders are expected to think for them, and think wisely, before putting more bonds on ballots cumulatively over the years until all of a sudden, it's much more expensive than voters considered at the ballot box.
Perhaps in the future any ballot containing a bond referendum question should have a running count attached showing what the bill will ultimately be when it comes time to pay for that multi-million dollar expenditure. Parks, transportation, schools, community college. At this point there may be no other option than a tax increase. How much remains to be seen.

To learn more about the proposed budget, visit the County online at www.nhcgov.com

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