County Commissioners to decide on bonds

County Commissioners to decide on bonds
June 09
07:15 2016



The Forsyth County commissioners will decide which bonds will go on the November ballot during their 2 p.m. briefing today.

The commissioners met on Thursday, June 2 for an initial debate about potential bonds. They need to approve a resolution about what bond referendums go on the ballot by June 13. Bond referendums let voters approve the debt borrowed for bond projects and the tax increase needed to pay for it. They also have the option of using limited obligation bonds, which lets the county take on debt without voter approval.

“It’s time to put up or shut up,” said County Commissioner Walter Marshall about renovating or replacing the Forsyth County Hall of Justice.

replace the Hall of Justice for $145 million, and one that involves renovating and expanding it for $112 million. The aging 1975 courthouse has inadequate facilities and space for its functions according to attorney Richard Bennett, who has been advocating for a new courthouse with the Forsyth County Bar Association.

“It barely did the job then and it’s gotten worse over the years,” said Bennett.

He said there are safety concerns with prisoner transportation, and a lack of elevators sometimes causes judges to be in the same elevator with prisoners. He said he prefers building a new courthouse on Second Street with an adjoining walkway with the neighboring Forsyth County Detention Center.

Bennett also preferred for it not be on the ballot. County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon echoed those thoughts, say-ing he was doubtful if voters would approve a bond referendum, but that the project definitely needs to be funded.

The other proposed bonds are $350 million for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System that will pay for new and renovated schools and new technology; $65 million for Forsyth Technical Community College for a new aviation program at Smith Reynolds Airport along with building renovations and construction;$10-15 million for Parks and Recreation; and $20 million to build a new home for the combined SciWorks and Children’s Museum on the site of the old Sheriff’s Office building.

SciWorks Director Paul Kortenaar said he didn’t have a preference for whether SciWorks gets a bond referendum or limited obligation bond. He was confident that voters would approve it if it was on the ballot.

“We feel like we would be supported,” he said.

All together there’s $595.6 million in bond requests being considered, with a goal of pairing them down to $556 million or less so the amount of the county’s budget spent on debt service doesn’t go above 18 percent. If $556 million in bonds was approved, it would be an 8-cent increase in county property tax. County Commissioners Gloria Whisenhunt and Richard Linville both said they couldn’t support $556 million in bonds, even as a referendum. Whisenhunt also said whatever bond projects the county pursues should be put on the ballot.

As the economy has improved and interest rates remain low, bonds have become more common-place on ballots. Voters approved a statewide NC Connect bond in March and a city bond in 2014. But Whisenhunt said she was concerned about raising county taxes so much.

“I think that’s just too much to ask of our taxpayers who are just now recovering,” she said. “I don’t have the stomach to raise my hand for that type of tax increase.”

Chairman Dave Plyler said he was fine with putting all five on the ballot. Commissioner Don Martin was said he supported the public schools and Forsyth Tech bonds. Martin was unsure about the rest and felt the proposals on the courthouse were too expensive.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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