Voters to decide on Connect NC Bond in March

The Connect NC Bond could provide up to $5.3 million for construction of a new building on the Havelock campus of Craven Community College.

However, not everyone backs the $2 billion statewide bond that largely goes to state-supported universities and community colleges.

Voters will decide the issue in March.

Craven County’s $5.3 million share of the bond is largely targeted toward construction of a new science, technology, engineering and math classroom building on the Havelock CCC campus. Such a building would be designed to prepare students for high-paying, technical jobs in the aviation industry, particularly at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point, which employs 3,200 people.

Raymond Staats, president of the college, said the building would be important for future students.

“It is going to be for classrooms and laboratories that are STEM focused and we are in very preliminary conversations with some of our partners to include Early College EAST, N.C. State and the Institute of Aviation Technology,” he said.

Though the bond vote is in March, Staats said the county already provided some initial funding for an architect and feasibility study.

“ … So, we’re at the very early stages,” he said.

The remainder of the money targeted for Craven Community College would be spent on the New Bern campus for completion of the Student Success Center and renovations to the library at Barker Hall, Staats said.

The statewide bond, pushed by Gov. Pat McCrory and passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly, does have its opponents. N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, voted against the measure, saying it was a “terrible idea.”

“It’s just Christmas in July, and I think it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The governor has said that the state has enough credit capacity to borrow and repay the bond without asking the state’s 10.1 million residents to pay for it through a tax increase. Speciale isn’t so sure.

“We worked very, very hard to get North Carolina on the right track,” he said. “We’re one of 11 states that still have a triple A bond rating. I just hate to see us spending money on something like this.”

The last time North Carolinians were asked to approve a bond for state universities and community colleges was in 2000 for $3.1 billion.

“Here we are 15 years later going to give them another billion dollars. It’s ridiculous,” Speciale said. “Part of my fight against it, beside just that it is a waste of money, is that a lot of this money is going to put up new buildings. It’s going to add classroom seats. We’ve got such a terrible record of filling the classroom seats now. Everybody is taking online courses. Nobody is sitting in classrooms.”

N.C. Rep. George Graham, D-Lenoir, who represents parts of Craven County and Havelock, supports the bond.

“That is very important and I represent the Havelock area and I want to see those things happen,” he said. “We need to do more if we are going to be attractive, not only to the military but to the young people who are coming out of school to stay there or come back there and try to have a career and carve out a life.”

He looks at the bond as being important for the state’s economic future.

“We’re at a point with our economy here in North Carolina that we can grow and really do some great things,” he said. “If we stop, we are going to have a very difficult time getting it back on track and getting the momentum moving again.”

N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, who represents Craven County as well, voted for the bond as a way to get it in front of the state’s voters.

“We want to give the people the opportunity to vote yes or no on it. That’s what we were doing,” he said. “I think that everybody who voted for it had some reasons for wanting to see it favorably before the voters. This is the exact way that we are supposed to do it when we have a need for resources for revenue in the state when we don’t have them as far as taxes and we put it to the people and let the people decide whether to put the state in debt or not.”

Like Graham, Sanderson didn’t believe that the added debt for the state would be harmful.

“We’ve been assured that if our revenue stays on course like it has for the last year or two that we are perfectly capable of repaying the debt service on this bond without putting strain on any other budget item or without having to look to raise revenue from other places,” Sanderson said. “We’re at a place where interest rates are very low. We have the borrowing capacity according to our personnel and our staff, the Department of Revenue.”

The bond provides funding to 76 of the state’s 100 counties, with most of the money targeted to colleges and state-supported universities. About a third of the bond would go toward water and sewer projects, local parks, agriculture, state parks and the zoo, the National Guard and public safety.

The bond will be on the ballot for the March 15 primary election. The state’s website that details the bond is www.connect.nc.gov.