The city of Wilmington is officially supporting the ConnectNC bond, which will be put before voters on the March 15 primary election ballot.
The statewide bond, which was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly with bipartisan support as part of House Bill 943, is meant to support education, agriculture, parks, water and sewer services. Locally, it would fund a $66 million health and human services and nursing building on the campus of UNC – Wilmington. If passed, construction could start this year on the project, with the building possibly ready for the 2018-2019 academic year. It would also give $5.9 million to Cape Fear Community College for improvements.
“Over $74 million will be delivered here to New Hanover County as a part of the bond if it does pass,” said the city’s legislative liaison Tony McEwen. “I don’t think the money is going to be filtered through the county, I think it’s direct state spending on these projects that they’ve listed out here.”
The county’s two state parks would also benefit, with $1.125 million allocated to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and $855,000 set aside for Carolina Beach State Park.
Councilman Earl Sheridan questioned whether municipalities would be able to spend any of the money on projects of their discretion.
“For the most part, I think the money is already directed at where it’s going to be spent, so I don’t think there’s necessarily going to be a fund there that Wilmington can tap into for various projects,” McEwen said. “Certainly we have projects here in the city of Wilmington that will benefit that we laid out, but I don’t think there will be a fund of money sitting there.”
Councilman Charlie Rivenbark said he didn’t like that the items chosen to benefit from the bond were chosen by the General Assembly and other state officials.
“They’re neutering us already,” Rivenbark said. “One of these days, there won’t even be a need for this [asking for support from the cities].”
Sheridan asked if there was any communication between the city and county and the bond’s creators about how the money would be allocated. McEwen said there was none to his knowledge.
According to McEwen, it is supported by a broad base of officials and groups, including Gov. Pat McCrory, Attorney General Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who was not present on Tuesday, put the item on the meeting’s agenda and asked the council to join him in supporting it.
The bond would borrow $2 billion with 20-year financing and be put into infrastructure improvements in 76 of the state’s 100 counties. As a result of the bond, 5,000 jobs are expected to be created in the next five years.
Nearly fifty percent of the bond ($980 million) will go to the University of North Carolina system, and 17 percent ($350 million) will go to community colleges in the state. According to McEwen, it has been 15 years since the state’s last general obligation bond, and North Carolina’s population has increased by more than two million people since then.
The resolution to support Connect NC passed the Wilmington City Council unanimously, 6 to 0.