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Onslow County voters shoot down $75 million school request

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RICHLANDS, N.C. -

In Onslow County, the voters have spoken, decidingoverwhelmingly in Tuesday's election not to support raising property taxes topay for a set of $75 million school projects.

"Of course, it was quite disappointing to us because wereally needed those funds," said Pamela Thomas, Onslow Co. School Boardchairman.

More than 64 percent of voters decided they will notsupport the school board's bond referendum.

The bond would have paid for thereplacement of two schools: Richlands Elementary School and Dixon MiddleSchool; more school security measures like cameras; and maintenance like newroofing.

The move would have raised property taxes by as much as$50 to 60 per year in the average household, said Onslow County Schools' assistantsuperintendent for human resources Barry Collins.

But the school board is not giving up.

"We may look at, and the county commissioners mayentertain, asking the legislators to ask us to allow us to increase sales tax,"said Thomas. "That's kind of a more fair tax because everybody pays it."

But Onslow County commissioner Lionell Midgett saysraising the sales tax is not an option.

"Part of sales tax is dedicated to paying school debt, but we've already gotabout 85 some million dollars worth of school debt that we're using that salestax for to pay, so there's no additional sales tax available," said Midgett.

Midgett says if commissioners refuse to pay for theprojects, the school board may choose to appeal that decision in superiorcourt.

"If the judge makes a decision where the county's got toincur the debt, then we are by court order we got to issue the debt, and wewill raise property taxes to pay for that debt," said Midgett.

There's no timeline for when the case would be heard if itdoes go to superior court, but it would probably move through the system morequickly because it's a school matter, said Midgett.

 The Onslow County schoolboard has already bought 40 acres of land for the proposed site of Dixon MiddleSchool.

Under a contractual agreement, if the school board doesnot have building permits for the new middle school by the year 2015, then theoriginal landowner can buy 10 acres of that land back at a discounted rate of85% of the current market value.

The board says the rejection of the bond referendum makesit harder to meet the permitting deadline.

-- Previous story --

In Onslow County, voters have to decide on November 5 whether to support a measure that could raise their property taxes.

The school district is asking for $75 million to build two new schools and make some major upgrades to others.

"The condition of the school is they're 90 years old. There are structural issues with both of the schools," said Barry Collins, Onslow Co. schools assistant superintendent.

The schools in question are Richlands Elementary School and Dixon Middle School. If the schools are replaced, Richlands Elementary would be moved from East Foy Street to Francktown Road. Dixon Middle School would be moved from Dixon School Road to an area near NC Highway 172.

"It's a good plan. If it is approved, it's the smartest way to pay for that kind of construction," said Collins.

The $75 million cost of the project also includes a proposal to add extra security measures like cameras, and maintenance like roofing, to other schools.

Brandi Simpson has a son who goes to Richlands Elementary School. She says she would support raising her own property taxes to pay for the project.

"Some of the classrooms are freezing when heat is on or just way too hot when cold air is on, and stuff like that can cause our kids to get sick," said Simpson.

Collins says property taxes could go up by 50 to 60 dollars per year for the average household.

"Nobody likes their taxes raised," said property owner Jesse Futrell, who believes his property taxes are high enough. "When we raise taxes, that's money out of your pocket that you need to put somewhere else."

But he says he'll support whatever decision the voters come up with.

If the bond referendum is approved, Collins says construction of the schools should be complete in 2 to 3 years.

Collins says renovation of the schools is not a viable option because it would be too expensive to get the buildings up to code.

He says if the referendum is not approved on November 5, the school district will still ask commissioners if there's some way they can find funding for the projects.

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