Residents had a chance to learn more about the school bonds Wednesday night.
Iredell-Statesville Schools officials presented details of the 2020 Iredell County school bond referendum at Statesville High School. It was the first of five presentations on the issue leading up to the vote March 3.
The 2020 school bonds will be split into two votes: one for a new high school in southern Iredell County and a new middle school in Mooresville and one for public safety training funding at Mitchell Community College. The Wednesday presentation focused on the proposed $80 million high school, the most expensive of the three projects.
Superintendent Brady Johnson focused on what he said is the need to meet the growth in southern Iredell County.
“You used to could ride down Brawley School Road, and the only thing there was a couple of cow pastures and Brawley School, but it certainly has changed a lot, and it’s going to continue to change,” Johnson said. “That tells me we live in a community that is growing and thriving as a destination for people.”
Johnson said the bond for the high school is needed to increase school capacity for the influx of students expected in the coming years as growth continues.
More than 10,000 new residential units are projected to be added to the Lake Norman High School and South Iredell High School districts, Iredell County data indicates. The data draws from subdivision projects, both under review and those in various stages of construction as of Jan. 1.
Kenny Miller, assistant superintendent for facilities and planning, said that this would add a couple thousand students to the area in the next few years.
Johnson said that Lake Norman High is over capacity and has two mobile mega units in front of the school. He said that these units are “designed to be a temporary solution to a growth problem” and that the high school could not house any more due to watershed regulations.
Miller said that the mega units are like “pouring money down a rathole” because of their high initial and maintenance cost. He said that after 10 years, mega units need major renovations or need to be replaced.
Johnson also addressed the property tax increase that will fund the bond. The property tax is projected to increase from .5275% to .5375%, data from the Iredell County Finance Office indicated. This would increase annual property taxes by $10 for property valued at $100,000.
“Nobody wants their taxes to go up, but I don’t think any reasonable person could look at this and say that is not a reasonable request from the community, particularly given the gravity of the decision before us,” Johnson said. “Raising that property tax rate for Iredell County by a penny compared to what our neighbors are already paying, in my view, is a very, very reasonable request.”
The property tax rates for the counties surrounding Iredell are: Wilkes (.66%), Yadkin (.66%), Davie (.738%), Rowan (.658%), Cabarrus (.74%), Mecklenburg (.617%), Lincoln (.599%), Catawba (.575%) and Alexander (.79%), tax data from each county indicated.
Johnson said that if the bond does not pass, then other options such as redistricting and busing students further north in the county could possibly be an alternative.
“I don’t think the solution that will be put before the citizens of our community will be pleasant or acceptable if this bond is not successful,” Johnson said.
Lake Norman students would go to Troutman, South Iredell High students would go to West Iredell High and Statesville High, and students at those schools would go to North Iredell, he said.
Johnson also said that funds for other schools could be diverted to address the growth in southern Iredell if the bond does not pass.
“What I fear will happen if this bond is not successful is we’re going to have to go to that budget and extract money and put it towards addressing the growth.
“That means that every one of our 37 schools will feel the effects of that capital budget dropping so that we can divert money from those recurring expenses towards addressing growth,” Johnson said.
James Mallory, chairman of the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, also attended the meeting and spoke about the economic benefits of the school bonds.
Mallory said that when new businesses come to any area, they first look at the quality of the school system.
“Do you have schools that have seats for children of the employees that I hire, and if you don’t, they’re going to pass you by. That will impact the entire county,” Mallory said.
Mallory said that Iredell County is a commercial county that brings in new businesses. He said that this allows for the property tax to be low compared to surrounding counties because those counties rely on property taxes to fund residential growth instead of business taxes.
“If we do nothing, the tax rate will go up, because we will have to pay for the residential growth, and the commercial growth will pass us by,” Mallory said.
Reggie Hooker, a resident who attended the meeting and who has immediate family in the school system, said that the county should look into a sales tax increase instead of property tax increase.
“Why did we not go back and seek out the quarter of 1-cent sales tax in Iredell County versus the school bond? I’m all about equality. It’s a public school. Let everybody pay for it not the 57% of those taxpayers in Iredell County,” Hooker said. “If everybody is treated equally, we must pay taxes equally.”
Johnson responded to this by referring to the failed November 2018 referendum to increase the sales tax in Iredell County.
More than 40,000 people voted against that measure in a voting pool of just more than 60,000, the North Carolina Board of Elections reported.
Miller argued that property taxes are more reliable than sales taxes.
“Sales tax, though it does generate a lot in a good economy, is very volatile. When the economy is up, sales tax revenues are great. When the economy drops, sales tax revenues drop precipitously,” Miller said.