I recently heard presentations on the proposed bond issues for education. Two separate issues are proposed. One would fund a nursing facility at the community college, and the other would fund the replacement of the primary and elementary schools in Aberdeen, Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

In a presentation about the college’s nursing program, I learned that nursing instructional space is scattered about the campus and that much of it is located in space that does not meet the needs of modern nursing instruction.

Beyond the local physical limitations, our state faces a shortage of nurses. For some of us, this might be a somewhat esoteric problem. However, as members of my family have aged, I have become personally aware of the importance of having sufficient numbers of qualified nurses available to meet the growing needs of an aging populace.

During a recent recovery from an accident, my mother relied on nurses not only in the hospital, but also at the rehab facility. And once she returned home, visiting nurses provided vital follow-up care. This system can operate only if we, as a society, train nurses in sufficient numbers to staff it.

Since Moore County is a retirement mecca, we have a disproportionate need for nurses. However, unlike much of the state, we do not have to rely on attracting recent nursing graduates to come to our county. They are already here. But they need better facilities for training and bigger facilities to produce more nurses.

What a great opportunity we have to provide those facilities through the proposed bond issue.

We also have a great opportunity to right many years of wrongheaded decisions regarding our public school facilities. Recent Pilot stories and editorials have highlighted the lack of infrastructure maintenance and replacement in disparate areas of the county, most recently in Aberdeen’s consideration of a new police station.

Somehow over the last 40 years, it has become accepted “wisdom” that public officials are being fiscally conservative and good stewards of public funds when they delay all kinds of infrastructure maintenance, whether it be building replacement, road maintenance, or sewer line rehabilitation.

There may be no greater or more detrimental fallacy in government than this — though a close second would be that we, the taxpayers and ratepayers, should never have to pay higher rates for any of the services that government provides.

Between these two reality-denying beliefs, we have ended up with many people thinking that we can ignore deteriorating infrastructure and not pay any more to fix it, while still getting the same level of service from our government.

Over the long term, it just does not work that way. If you don’t fix your infrastructure, you cannot maintain the same quality or quantity of services. Beyond that, a day of reckoning will eventually come when you can no longer stomach the deterioration and decide that repairs or replacements must be done.

And, lo and behold, you will be smacked upside the head when the numbers come in as you discover that your delays have not saved you any money, but rather have exponentially increased your costs beyond what you would have paid if you had kept up with your infrastructure needs on an ongoing basis.

That is where we find ourselves with the public schools today. Admirably, our current county commissioners have recognized the need finally to address years of neglect. Because of past inaction, we will be paying more than we otherwise should have. However, we will be paying less with this bond issue than if our commissioners had continued to ignore the problem.

And most important for the voters’ consideration: The issue before them is whether we want to use the lowest-cost method for paying for the schools, not whether to actually build new schools (a decision solely for the county commissioners, not the voters).

The county could issue limited-obligation bonds to pay for the school construction without voter approval. However, voter-approved general-obligation bonds cost less because they have a lower interest rate than limited-obligation bonds.

So will the voters make a decision that lowers costs for new school construction, or will they continue the misguided decisions of the past and support higher long-term costs? One can only hope that we in Moore County have finally turned a corner and will start on what is truly the most fiscally conservative path for long-term infrastructure maintenance.

 

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