Early voting is underway in Iredell County, and voters will decide if property taxes should be increased to fund a new, $80 million high school in southern Iredell County.
The projected tax increase on property valued at $100,000 would be 83 cents per month, or about a 1-cent increase based on a $100 valuation, according to the county finance department. That adds up to nearly a $10 annual increase.
Property taxes increased for the 2014 bond by nearly 9 percent, according to Iredell County tax data. The increase for the 2020 bond is projected to be less than 2 percent.
The vote on the 2020 bonds will be split into two referendums.
The first is for a proposed $35 million middle school for the Mooresville Graded School District and the $80 million high school in southern Iredell County.
The second referendum is for a $10 million package for Mitchell Community College that includes a public safety training facility and a driving pad.
The new high school would be constructed on either Parkerstown Road or Overcash Road, both off Exit 42 on Interstate 77, according to Iredell-Statesville Schools officials.
Why Iredell-Statesville Schools wants the bond
In 2010, the population of Iredell County was a little under 160,000. In 2018, the population had increased to nearly 180,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Data from Iredell County estimates that the current population of the county is around 185,000 and that it will double by 2030.
County data also indicate that nearly 10,000 housing units are proposed to be built in southern Iredell County from Troutman to Mooresville.
The two I-SS high schools in that region, Lake Norman and South Iredell, are over capacity, with enrollment expected to increase in the coming years, according to data from the 2018 Iredell County Education Facilities Task Force, a group of people from around the county that assesses the educational needs of the county every few years.
Both Lake Norman High and South Iredell High have temporary mobile units that hold classrooms for students.
Lake Norman High cannot install additional mobile units due to water shed restrictions on the land surrounding the lake, said Brady Johnson, I-SS superintendent.
The new high school is projected to hold classroom space for 1,400 to 1,600 students.
Johnson described this as a capacity bond, arguing that it was necessary to address the current and projected growth of the county.
“We don’t have an answer to this right now,” Johnson said. “If there isn’t a new high school built down there, you’re looking at redistricting the whole school system. You’re looking at shifting kids north.”
Johnson said that redistricting would shift students from Lake Norman and South Iredell to high schools with open capacity such as West Iredell and Statesville. Students at those schools would be shifted to North Iredell High.
This would involve busing, which Johnson said would cost the school system more in the long run.
“All of us have a stake in this, because if the bond fails, the children are still going to come over the next decade. We’re still going to have to build a seat for them,” Johnson said. “We’re still going to address growth. We will have to do it on your back, and money that should be intended to go to North Iredell High School and West Iredell High School and Sharon Elementary School and Cool Springs Elementary School. That money will be redirected to address growth in our system.”
Johnson said that the decision on the bond is one that voters will make about the future of Iredell County for the decades to come.
“With this vote, we’re going to be sending a strong message about the future of our community, that we are progressive and we’re prepared,” Johnson said. “The other message is we’re ignoring a critical need in our county, and we are not going to be prepared for the future.”
‘Education and economic development are joined at the hip’
County Board of Commissioners chairman James Mallory said that the economy in Iredell County has changed over the past few years — with most of the growth happening in southern Iredell County.
“The companies that are moving in are focused on 21st-century jobs. That has shifted where the economic engine in Iredell County is,” Mallory said. “Fifty, 60 years ago, it was agriculture. Thirty years ago or 35 years ago it was really the Statesville area with furniture and textiles. Today that has shifted to the southern part of the county.”
Mallory said that the growth, due to Charlotte’s expansion, has affected many counties in the region. He said that Iredell County is unique in that it has significant business growth alongside residential growth.
“What’s unique about Iredell County, what our major strength is, is that that’s not the sole source of folks moving into Iredell County. A large number of folks move into Iredell County to work in Iredell County, not to commute to Charlotte,” Mallory said.
Mallory said that business growth keeps property taxes low. Currently, Iredell County has the 13th lowest property tax rate in North Carolina and the lowest, at .5275%, out of all the counties surrounding it, according to data from Iredell County.
Mallory said that the best way to attract businesses, which he said pay more in taxes than county services used, is to provide good schooling for the employees’ families.
“The key to keeping low taxes is attracting business. The key to attracting business is making sure your schools are high quality and that they are not at capacity, that you have the ability to service the employees’ families of these businesses that are looking to locate or expand here,” Mallory said. “Education and economic development are joined at the hip.”
Southern Iredell County provides 71% of the county’s tax revenue. Without this, Mallory said that northern Iredell County would be similar to Alexander County, where the property tax rate is .79%, the highest in the region.
He said this is because the economic development in southern Iredell brings in new businesses which brings in revenue for the county to counteract the demand in services that comes with the residential growth.
Mallory said that denying the school bond puts this economic development in jeopardy. He said that this could increase property taxes in the long run as residential growth and demand in services increase.
He said a failed bond would turn off potential employers, denying business revenue for the county. He said it was better to implement what he called a small increase in the short term.
“It’s a very small increase in the property tax to get a big, big payoff,” Mallory said.
Mallory said that saving money over a long period is not feasible due to rising inflation for construction costs. “We’ve got to address the problem,” Mallory said. “What’s the cheapest way to fund these schools? It’s with a bond.”
Mallory said that the bond is vital for the future economic development of Iredell County.
“We have an economic engine that is generating funds for the benefit of all the citizens of Iredell County, and we don’t want to put water in the gas,” Mallory said.
“You want that engine humming. You want it to meet a range of needs, and Iredell County is doing that right now. We can’t afford to slow down.”