Connect NC Bond Benefits Touted at ‘Lunch and Learn’ Event, On The Primary Ballot

Published Friday, March 4, 2016 at 3:48 pm
Johnny Burleson, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Advancement with Appalachian State University, presented the benefits of the Connect NC Bond Proposal community members at a Boone Area Chamber-sponsored "Lunch and Learn" event on Friday. Photo by Jesse Wood

Johnny Burleson, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Advancement with Appalachian State University, presented the benefits of the Connect NC Bond Proposal community members at a Boone Area Chamber-sponsored “Lunch and Learn” event on Friday. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Community members heard the benefits of the Connect NC Bond Proposal from Johnny Burleson, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Advancement with Appalachian State University, on Friday at a Boone Area Chamber-sponsored “Lunch and Learn” event. 

“This is really important to our community,” Burleson said, encouraging the few dozen people in attendance to vote for the bond referendum that is on the March 15 primary ballot – and to tell their friends.

While the $2 billion bond package will fund projects in 76 counties across the state, the bond, if approved, would invest nearly $80 million locally: $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.

Yes, the $70 million for ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences building is what especially has Appalachian State University officials excited. If the bond is approved by voters on on March 15, Burleson said that the project is shovel ready and would likely be the first project funded through the bond package.

“If this passes, we’ll break ground likely in April if it’s not snowing,” Burleson said, adding that the project would take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Currently, the program is spread across seven buildings on the college campus. The proposed building is 203,000 square feet in size, and if built would free up 100,000 square feet of space on the college campus. The new building is planned on a 9-acre site at the corner of Deerfield and State Farm roads that was donated by the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Overall, 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 future water and sewer projects; $100 million is earmarked for state parks; $179 million under the agriculture category for a building; 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.

Speaking on Friday, Burelson noted that the funds from the $2 billion bond would fund assets, lasting 50 years, with a 20-year financing time period. Proponents of the bond package tout the current low interest rates for government bonds and that no new taxes will be increased because of the bond.

“This is the most economically sensible time to finance this debt in a very long time,” Burleson said.

Boone Town Manager John Ward was on hand to comment on the bond package, and he noted that the Boone Town Council passed a resolution supporting the bond referendum.

“I think that what you will see if this does pass, you will see a surge of redevelopment in that area that could reach into all segments of our community, especially in businesses and banking and every aspect of the Boone community,” Ward said. “The way it will impact the Town of Boone is that we are already known as a tourism destination, a university destination and a medical destination, so when you ramp that up with all these entities working together, I think the unseen potential is that this will really be an asset to our area.”

App State Chancellor Sheri Everts recently penned an op-ed in support of the proposal. Everts mentioned that the bond would not only improve economic development in the High Country but would also improve the health care in Western North Carolina.

“Appalachian’s newest college is making a difference in the lives of our students and enhancing health and quality of life in our state and beyond. With the simple act of voting, you can help our faculty, staff and students make our state a place where our citizens live longer, healthier lives,” Everts concluded.

But not everyone is so optimistic about the bond referendum.

“A bond is not free money, it’s a method of spending money now and leaving future generations of taxpayers to pick up the tab later. Many legislators are supporting the bond because it’s a way for them to spend money on grandiose projects and earn political points back home while not having to claim the expenditures as an operating budget spending increase. The problem is that they’re piling debt onto today’s children. Another term for this is deferred taxation. It is a much more fiscally responsible practice to prioritize items by their importance and pay as we go,” said Nicole Revels of Lenoir, Director of NC Against the Bond.

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. To learn about the benefits of the bond package, here’s a state-sponsored website with more information.

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