The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 27th

Board Weighs Funding Alternatives

County commissioners held a public hearing for local residents to explain their bond proposal suggestions.

Children are not a common sight at meetings of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

But at the board's public hearing Monday night, Poonam Pande brought her 3-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy, to persuade the board that they should build a family-friendly swimming pool with funds from their bond proposal.

The board heard appeals like Pande's to gauge public opinion before it can announce the final components of the proposed $75 million bond referendum, which will go before Orange County voters Nov. 6.

The bond package includes financial provisions for five different orders -- schools, affordable housing, senior centers, land acquisition and parkland and open space.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said local regulations cap the bond's funds at $75 million, making the competition for fund allocation fierce. "I listened to what people had to say," Jacobs said. "I test my own assumptions against their assertions."

The Orange County Budget Office has earmarked $47 million for school construction and renovations for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Orange County School System.

The construction of new schools is one major point of contention. The bond will include money to build two new elementary schools in Chapel Hill and a new middle school in Orange County.

But many residents also see the need for a third high school in Chapel Hill. "The most important thing is that there be a formal commitment to a third high school, and that should be reflected in the bond," said Commissioner Alice Gordon.

Nick Didow, chairman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, pushed for more system funding. "By itself, the bond plan will not meet the current or future needs (of the system)," he said. "Over the course of the next five to six years, projections indicate that we will need at least two additional middle schools and an additional high school."

Didow said the commissioners will have to balance the needs of both school systems.

After debating the allocation of the $47 million among schools, residents made their pleas about the use of the remaining $28 million for the four other orders. From this amount, senior centers and affordable housing are guaranteed $4 million each. The final $20 million will be spent on parks and open spaces and the acquisition of lands.

Terri Tyson, of 108 Telluride Trail, said she hopes money for parklands and open space will be used to benefit the area's growing Hispanic community.

Jacobs said he felt the construction of additional soccer fields would accomplish that task. "Based on the work of our soccer task force, it's very clear that providing soccer fields will have a big benefit," he said.

The proposed bond referendum's finalized allocations will be presented at the board's next meeting on Sept. 4, leaving members with little time to prioritize the conflicting demands.

"We are in a crunch situation," Gordon said. "The hard part isn't going to be cutting out things that aren't desirable but determining everything that can fit in."

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