What is the vote about?
The 2016 Parks Bond is the first major funding referendum to improve the City of Wilmington’s parks and recreation facilities since 2006. The vote would provide nearly two-thirds of the total $61 million in parks improvements planned for the Port City. The construction and improvements are expected to be completed over the next five to seven years.
The largest project is the $20 million North Waterfront Park Site Development, a six-and-a-half acre public space, including a performance area and outdoor structures (the city’s master plan for the park is available here).
The next largest item is $10 million in expansion and improvements to the city’s soccer and other athletic fields.
Funding would also be provided for the second phase of the Olsen Park expansion. The park, which is a collaborative effort of New Hanover County and Wilmington, is located outside city limits, in the Murrayville area. (A full list and map of planned projects is available here).
Where will funding come from?
The City of Wilmington will repay the bond by raising taxes on Wilmington property, by 2.1¢ per $100 of property value. The city estimates $3.50 a month (or $42 a year) in increases for a property valued at $200,000. The tax increase would last the duration of the 20-year repayment period. Wilmington’s property management companies may increase rental rates accordingly, though renters won’t be directly taxed.
Who can vote? Where and when?
Only North Carolina voters registered at addresses inside the Wilmington city limits can vote on the bond. Some residents in the Ogden, Monkey Junction and Murrayville areas, for example, may mistakenly think they are Wilmington residents (they may even receive mail at a “Wilmington” address). Not sure if you live inside the city limits? A link to the city’s zoning map can be found here.
Wilmington residents can vote at their designated locations on Nov. 8. They can also take advantage of one-stop early voting – where voters can register and cast their early ballot at the same time – at four locations in Wilmington. Those looking to register must complete a voter registration form and show proof of residency, whether through a valid ID or a document showing their name and address (lease, utility bills, bank statements, pay stub, etc.).
The one-stop early voting locations are:
CFCC Health Sciences Building
Northeast Regional Library
Senior Resource Center
Early voting hours for Wilmington locations are:
Thursday, Oct. 27 through Wednesday, Nov. 2 (except Sunday), from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 3 and Friday, Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For questions about voting, registrations, and locations, contact the New Hanover County Board of Elections at (910) 798-7330.
How does Wilmington’s park space compare to other cities?
Currently, Wilmington has 509.04 acres of public park space, according to the city’s parks and recreation department (visit its site here). Based on the United States Census estimate placing Wilmington’s 2015 population at 115,933, this gave each Wilmington resident slightly more than 191 square feet of park space last year.
This is considerably less than Raleigh, which offers each resident 1,332 square feet, according to a Trust for Public Land report filed in 2015 (the full report is available here, note that the figures listed in the report are acres, not square feet).
According to the same report, Port City has even less public space per capita than New York City (which offers approximately 200 square feet per New Yorker, not including the city’s several million daily commuters and tourists).
What are some concerns about the bond?
The major concern with the bond has been insufficient parking, particularly for the planned North Waterfront Park, the largest single item on the bond budget. Unlike Olsen Park, which has adequate parking with more planned in bond, and the project’s planned athletic fields, which could incorporate parking areas, the North Waterfront Park is constricted by the growing development on and around North Third Street. Overflow parking from the Sawmill Point Apartments (currently under construction) are also a concern. Former Mayor Harper Peterson has been a notable critic on this point, calling the park a “bridge to nowhere,” because of its insufficient parking.” Peterson said, “without adequate parking the park wouldn’t really be available to most of the city’s residents.”
Another concern is the use of Wilmington tax revenue to continue the development of Olsen Park, which is also a New Hanover County park (although it is only three miles outside of Wilmington).
Finally, Wilmington homeowners may be concerned about increased taxes and how those taxes are used.
What is a bond, anyway?
Wilmington residents will vote to authorize the city to sell municipal bonds. In other words, while the city will ultimately pay for the projects by increasing property tax, immediate funding will come from the sale of municipal bonds.
These bonds are essentially shares in the completed projects. The shares are sold and traded on an international market, similar to – but separate from – the stock market. After the bonds are purchased on the market, the City of Wilmington must pay back investors, with interest, in a limited period of time, in this case 20 years.
The value of the bonds and the amount of interest is, in part, determined by the credit rating of the city itself. Like individuals, the city receives credit ratings from at least three major agencies: Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch. All three agencies have rated the city at their highest or second-highest rate, and Fitch upgrading the city’s rating again this past May (Fitch’s release can be found here). In short, voters can reasonably rely on the bonds to perform well and provide the necessary funding.