News Column

New tech building at college could come down to one commissioner's vote

August 11, 2014

By Chris Lavender, Times-News, Burlington, N.C.



Aug. 11--GRAHAM -- County Commissioner Bill Lashley said Monday he believed the county should move forward with borrowing the funds necessary to pay for a new Alamance Community College tech center.

Lashley said the county should take advantage of low interest rates and build a new tech center, which was estimated to cost $15 million in 2012. The building would provide space for the college's machining, welding. HVAC, automotive and carpentry programs.

Lashley characterized the county's current debt level as "moderate" and believed the county would be able to get interest rates close to 3 percent on a loan.

County voters approved the building in November 2012. The Board of Commissioners placed a quarter-cent sales tax on the same ballot to be used to pay for a new ACC tech center and for economic development. Voters rejected the sales tax increase.

The commissioners, beginning in 2012, had seven years to decide whether to issue bonds to help pay for the tech center based on voters' approval of the bond.

Commissioner David Smith said Monday he believed the tech center was needed to allow ACC to compete with surrounding community colleges. The tech center would be a valuable addition to ACC helping it to train a future workforce, Smith said.

Smith said since the public approved the building with its vote, the commissioners needed to work together to find a way to pay for it possibly through tax revenues.

Commissioner Linda Massey said Monday she was opposed to the county taking out a loan to pay for the tech center and didn't believe the county should contribute anything monetarily to building a new tech center at this time.

"I don't think we ought to pay for it," Massey said. "Why doesn't ACC pay for it? That's what I don't understand. Why do we have to pay for everything?"

Massey said she wasn't opposed to taking another look at the project later to better understand why ACC officials say they need it to be built.

Commissioner Tim Sutton said Monday that he was opposed to property tax increases to pay for the project. When the commissioners agreed to the referendum for the tech center, they did so on the condition, by way of resolution, that the project would be funded without increases in property taxes.

With voters' rejection of the sales tax increase, Sutton asked how the commissioners who support the project would fund it.

Commissioner John Paisley Jr. said Monday he needed to do more research on the tech center before making a decision on what should be done. Paisley said he would prefer the county not increase its debt load and continue to pay off its remaining debt.

LAST WEEK, County Finance Officer Tom Manning said conditions remained favorable for the county to borrow money with interest rates at low levels. Manning said there would be future needs that had to be addressed, including funding options for an ACC tech center approved by voters.

Alamance County's total debt is projected to be at $57 million by the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year, which compares favorably to counties its size, according to Manning.

Lashley said he wouldn't support raising taxes to pay for a new tech center and believed the county's property tax rate, which the commissioners reduced by 1 cent for 2014-15, was still too high. The current property tax rate is 53 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Manning, a county commissioner before resigning the office to take the finance officer position, said last week that while the decrease wouldn't adversely affect the budget, it was a move made by the board that he didn't support. Sutton, Lashley and Massey voted to decrease the property tax rate by 1 cent with Smith and Paisley voting against the reduction.

Paisley said he believed the prior tax rate of 54 cents was a reasonable rate to have kept to allow the county to continue to pay its debt and provide services. With the rate reduction for 2014-15, Paisley said, he believed the board likely would increase the rate sometime in the future to meet the same level of needs that are currently being met.

"I wish we would have left the tax rate where it was," Paisley said.

Sutton said he stood by his decision to decrease the rate by 1 cent and believed it wasn't Manning's job as finance officer to set the board's agenda.

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(c)2014 Times-News (Burlington, N.C.)

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Source: Times-News (Burlington, NC)


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