By Jesse Wood
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners unanimously endorsed the $2 billion Connect NC Bond Proposal that registered voters in the state will see on the primary ballot in March.
If approved by voters in March, more than $1 billion of the funds would go to higher education in the state. Nearly $980 million funds building projects in the UNC system and $350 million funds new construction, repairs and renovations for several dozen community colleges.
Elsewhere, $312 million is earmarked to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality for water and sewer projects; $100 million is earmarked for state parks; $179 million under the agriculture category; and more than $78 million is allotted for the National Guard and the Department of Public Safety for readiness centers in Guilford, Burke and Wilkes counties and a training academy in Moore county. See a rundown of the line items here.
In all, the proposal will fund projects in 76 counties, and advocates of the proposal tout the historically low interest rates to fund these “assets that will last for 50 years with 20-year financing,” according to a flyer in the commissioners meeting packet.
As for Watauga County, these projects would be funded if the bond is approved: $70 million for ASU’s College of Nursing & Health Sciences building, $1.5 million to improve Grandfather Mountain State Park; $5.6 million for improvements for Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute; $900,000 to improve Elk Knob State Park; and $600,000 to improve Beech Creek Bog State Natural Area.
Johnny Burleson, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Advancement with Appalachian State University, presented the benefits of the Connect NC Bond Proposal to the commissioners on Tuesday.
“We are really excited about the ability to the meet the needs for increased healthcare professionals, which is increasing dramatically,” Burleson said, referring to the Beaver College of Health Sciences at App State.
Burleson said that enrollment in the program has doubled since its inception in 2010, and the College of Health Sciences is already the second largest program at Appalachian.
“We are excited about the proposal,” reiterated Burleson.
Chairman Jimmy Hodges, a Republican, said this bond would be a “good thing” for Watauga County and Appalachian State University and he also stressed that no proposed tax increases are associated with the $2 billion proposal.
“In my opinion, Watauga County benefits as much as any other county in the state,” Hodges said. “Let’s do get the word out and support that.”
Democrat Commissioner Billy Kennedy chimed in that while he is all in favor of improving infrastructure, he said it’s “disingenuous” to propose a $2 billion bond package and say taxes won’t increase. This garnered a laugh from Commissioner David Blust.
The commissioners voted 4-0 to adopt a pre-drafted resolution endorsing the bond package. Commissioner John Welch abstained from the vote because he’s an employee of Appalachian State University.
Gov. Pat McCrory initially pushed for a $2.9 billion proposal early last year but the N.C. House and Senate settled on $2 billion for taxpayers to borrow. For more information, here’s a state-sponsored website about the bond package.