Community Summit To Review Funding Requests

via County Summit to Review Funding Requests | News |

Moore County Commissioners’ Chairman Nick Picerno says he hopes the board will come out of its winter summit Thursday with a “game plan” on funding the school system’s building needs.

County officials have been working with financial advisers from Davenport & Co. on refining a possible funding plan first presented to the board in September at its annual Critical Issues Summit. It was predicated on voter approval of a quarter-cent sales tax increase that will be on the ballot for consideration March 15.

“We’ve got some ideas that are looking real good,” Picerno said Monday. “We’ve got to have a game plan.”

Davenport’s plan last fall showed how the county could come up with $198 million from a combination of existing funds, which includes the sales tax increase, and short-term loans toward funding the school board’s $237 master facilities plan that includes 10 projects.

Since then, the school board has revised its priorities, moving the Advanced Career Center high school to the top of the list, followed by new elementary schools for the Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Whispering Pines/Vass areas.

Expansions and renovations to ease crowding at Pinecrest and Union Pines high schools were moved down the list, and the three elementary schools were moved up. The idea is that the new career high school, which could be built on land on Airport Road across from Sandhills Community College, would take some of the enrollment pressure off the existing high schools, delaying the need for expansions. School officials say those campuses still will need to be renovated and updated at some point.

In its educational materials regarding the quarter-cent sales tax, the county says those revenues would enable the county to borrow money on a short-term basis initially to fund the top four projects — the new high school and three elementary schools — with an estimated cost of $119.3 million.

A quarter-cent increase in the sales tax is estimated to generate $2.2 million a year, which will likely grow annually over time as sales increase.

Picerno said the county has been meeting informally with school officials to get a better handle on the construction timeframes for its construction projects. But he cautioned that all of this is based on voters approving the referendum on the sales tax increase.

“This is also a permission-to-borrow question as well,” Picerno said. “The public needs to buy in on this.”

Picerno said the sales tax stream grows more than property tax revenues. He added that property taxpayers are also chipping in since the county has been setting aside a portion of its annual property tax surpluses each year for school capital needs.

Those surpluses are due to the county leaving the property tax rate higher than it should have been following the revaluation in 2007.

The county has accumulated $21.9 million in that capital reserve fund for school construction needs. The county would continue adding to that pot with future surpluses as well as new money that comes available as old debts are repaid.

Related to that, the commissioners will also discuss their own capital needs — a new courthouse in the next few years is chief among those needs — and its financial outlook for fiscal year 2017.

“The county will have needs as well,” Picerno said. “We can’t spend every dollar on schools.”

Also during the retreat, officials from the area’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) will have an opportunity to present a proposed plan that calls for doubling the county’s hotel room occupancy tax and using a portion of the additional revenues to build and operate a proposed $14 million sports complex south of Aberdeen.

Money from the higher tax would also bolster efforts to market the county’s golf industry, putting it on par with many of its competitors in the Southeast, officials say.

The CVB board approved the “Moore County Tourism Strategic Investment Plan” in October, but without the support of the area’s two largest resorts, Pinehurst Resort and Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, which objected to using room tax revenues as the main source of funding.

Under the plan adopted by the CVB, 80 percent of the revenues would be spent on marketing and the remainder on “product development,” which would include the sports complex.

Supporters say the complex would generate additional business for area hotels, especially during the slower times of the year, so the tourism industry does not have to depend solely on golf, which is more seasonal.

The CVB delayed presenting the plan to the commissioners late last year since it was still working out some of the financial details. Proponents were also working on more specific information regarding development costs, additional funding sources such as grants and issues regarding the use of the fields in the complex.

Picerno said this will be the first opportunity for the commissioners to hear about the proposal.

“The first plan we saw lost a lot of money in the first few years,” Picerno said. “Personally, it was just not feasible. They were going back to the drawing board. Hopefully they have done that.”

The N.C. General Assembly enacted a law last year that gives the commissioners the authority to double the room tax to 6 percent. The commissioners backed the legislation but made clear that the tourism industry must be united in the plan to use money from the room tax to help fund the sports complex.

The winter summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center in Carthage.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or