Teaser Moore County commissioners

The budget outlook, possible funding sources for additional school needs and updates on major construction projects are among the items on the agenda for the county commissioners’ winter work session Wednesday.

The daylong session will begin at 9:30 a.m. on the second floor of the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center. The session is intended to look ahead at some of the major issues and challenges the county will face in the coming year.

The budget outlook will give commissioners an idea of what the revenue and expense projections will look like for the coming fiscal year.

Commissioners Chairman Frank Quis said the board will not be considering an increase in the property tax rate after it was raised for the first time in a decade last year following revaluation.

The rate was increased by 4.5 cents to 51 cents for each $100 of property value in part to fund debt payments for building new schools and other facilities, as well as increasing funding in areas such as law enforcement and social services.

Given that property values went up as a result of revaluation, the increase for most taxpayers will be even more.

Normally after a revaluation when property values increase, the tax rate is adjusted downward to what is called “revenue-neutral.” That amount generates the same revenue as before, taking into account normal growth. That would put the tax rate at 44.23 cents.

County Manager Wayne Vest said then that the 51-cent rate should provide adequate funding, based on expected growth in the tax base, to meet the county’s needs over the next four years until the next revaluation, when it could be adjusted.

Commissioners agreed with that assessment last year.

Quis, who serves on the county budget task force, said the committee has not yet begun its work but that based on some preliminary projects, the county should be fine.

“Moore County is in good shape financially,” he said. “We continue to benefit from a very strong economy, which is helping in so many ways, not only county government but also many individuals.

“There will be some challenges, and we are ready to deal with them. We have identified several areas we need to focus on in the coming year.”

School Needs Highlighted

School construction and a new courthouse are among the big ones.

After reviewing budget and revenue projections, school officials will update the board its various projects and future needs. Commissioners will hear about the status of construction of new elementary schools in Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst that are being financed through $103 million in voter approved bonds as well as $15 million project at North Moore High School that includes additional classrooms, an auxiliary gym and other improvements.

A follow-up discussion will be held on a recent tour of Carthage Elementary School and how to address its needs as well as other potential capital projects in the next two years.

Commissioners will also talk about possible funding sources. A number of options are available.

One of biggest pots is $10.5 million from what are called bond premiums on issuances to finance the three new elementary schools. That is a financial practice wherein financial firms bidding on the bonds can provide more money than is requested because of its attractiveness to investors as a way to sweeten the opportunity to buy the bonds.

The county’s financial advisers and its bond counsel have said that typically those proceeds are used to pay down debt or fund other school capital projects that fit within the scope of what voters approved.

In addition to that, the county had more than $1 million in interest earnings from bond proceeds sitting in the bank waiting to be paid out on the Aberdeen and Southern Pines projects. The county will also receive interest on the bond proceeds for Pinehurst Elementary, which will add to the total.

In the past, the county has used earned interest toward paying off debt, though its financial advisers and bond counsel said it could be used for other school capital needs.

Also in the education arena, commissioners will receive an update and timeline on a $20 million nursing and health education center at Sandhills Community College, which is being financed by voter-approved bonds. During its fall work session, college officials informed the board that the project was being accelerated by a year, with funding needed in late 2020.

That will impact the county’s fiscal year 2021 budget and was factored into the 51-cent tax rate adopted last year.

The plan involves adding a new 36,000-square-foot building adjacent to Kennedy Hall, where the nursing program is currently based. Once that’s complete, Kennedy itself will be renovated.

In total, the work will create a 75,000-square-foot facility for Sandhills’ nursing program as well as other health sciences programs like radiography, surgical technology, respiratory therapy, and emergency medical science.

Construction Also Makes Agenda

Beyond the education area, the county has two major construction projects underway.

Ground was broken late last year on a $5.5 million recreation center at Hillcrest Park on N.C. 22 at U.S. 15-501 in Carthage. Architects are currently developing plans for a new courthouse that will be built basically on the parking lot area next to the existing facility.

Plans call for a four-story facility, along with a partial basement that would have a small secured parking area.

The county hired Moseley Architects more than a year ago to begin design work on a courthouse that will tie into the existing facility, which will be renovated as part of the project.

Officials want to close one block of Dowd Street from Saunders Street to the circle around the Historic Courthouse to better accommodate the new structure. The county and Carthage have talked about the closure but a final decision has yet to be made.

The final design will dictate the actual cost, as well as the architect fees. Vest said last year that the county used an estimated cost of $30 million for the new construction and $3 million for the renovations in order to determine architect fees, which are based on a percentage of the construction costs.

The county and its financial advisers have identified funding for the project, primarily from the savings from paying off debt on the $32 million public safety center. The actual cost will not be known until the county seeks construction bids.

The county has been under increasing pressure from the judicial system for more than six years to build a new courthouse after several grand jury concluded that the current facility is not adequate and actually poses security and safety “hazards.”

The new recreation center is expected to be finished by January or February 2021. The 22,000-square-foot facility will include two gymnasiums with full-size basketball courts, a conference room that can seat 100 people for classes, restrooms and a concession area.

The county opened a 7,000-square-foot splash pad last July on land next to where the center is being constructed. It costs $283,000 to build.

Funding from the county’s capital reserves, which the commissioners earmarked for the center in 2017, will cover about half of the cost of the new center. The county also had more than $800,000 from the sales of properties bequeathed to the county to support recreation in a special project fund.

In addition, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has raised about $680,000 in private funding for the center.

Other capital updates on the agenda include the final expansion of the county’s construction and demolition landfill off N.C. 5, as well as the second phase of the Vass sewer expansion, the expansion of the East Moore Water District to serve more than 100 homes in the Eastwood community.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development (USDA-RA) agreed in 2018 to provide a $3.4 million loan that would be paid back over 40 years and a $1.4 million grant for the Vass project.

The county promised more than 25 years ago when the town donated its utilities to the now-defunct Moore Water and Sewer Authority that it would provide sewer service for the entire town. Residents were relying on septic systems.

The first phase was completed in 2011 at a cost of $2.27 million and covered about half of the town.

On the Eastwood project, more than 137 homes signed up for water and paid a heavily discounted $250 tap fee last summer.

The county needed to have at least 111 customers sign up and pay the tap fee to raise the $27,750 in local funds required as part of the financing approved last year by USDA-RA. The federal agency has agreed to provide the county, through its East Moore Water District, with a $1.39 million low-interest loan and a $1.1 million grant to serve homes in the community west of Pinehurst that straddles N.C. 73.

During the afternoon session, commissioners will hear an update on statewide issues impacting counties from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, an update on a draft land-use plan, as well as efforts to protect major highway corridors, and a report from the Pet Responsibility Committee on addressing dramatic increases in the number animals taken by the county shelter and the euthanasia rate in the last year.

Animal operations is under the Sheriff’s Office.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com

(3) comments

Patricia Bryan

I'd like to hear the discussion about the number of animals that come to the county shelter and the euthanasia rate. People tend to blame the shelter workers for the number of pets that don't make it out the front door, but they aren't the problem. Irresponsible pet owners who don't spay/neuter their pets are a big part of the problem. That's just for starters.

Conrad Meyer

With the epic property tax revenue increase I am sure relieved to hear that the county manager believes we adequate funding. If he didn't say that, it would have been time for a new manager.

How epic are the increases?

Property tax rate up 10%.

PLUS my home valuation went up 15%.

Total increase in my property taxes is 26%.

I will not be voting for a property tax increase until at least 2025 - even longer if properties are revalued before then.

Icing on the cake is the sales tax increase. I have no clue how much more my pockets were emptied to feed the government which is never satiated. Where can we get the figures?

I also think it is silly to close Dowd road.

I made a note that the new recreation center is expected to be finished by Feb 2021. Past performance would suggest that it will be months late with no consequences.

Kent Misegades

The Commissioners will not need to spend one cent on the fastest growing schools in the county - the charter, home, and private schools, built and run at a fraction of the cost of government schools but with significantly better academic results.

There is surely plenty of fat that could be cut from spending. For instance approximately 40% of the adults working for MCS are not teachers, according to the latest data from their web site. What are they doing? Non-government schools have very small non-teaching staffs by comparison.

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