EDITORIAL: Commissioners right to let voters decide on bond

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Every government entity faces what can sometimes seem to be an endless series of difficult decisions that, depending on how the votes fall, will have significant long-term impact on the voters they’re elected to represent and the communities they’re elected to serve.

That’s how the process is designed to work, and we saw it work with the Lee County Board of Commissioners this week. They took the courageous step to allow a $23 million bond referendum to be placed on the ballot. The vote was unanimous. The bond, if passed, would benefit Central Carolina Community College by funding:

* A new health science center, projected to cost $9 million.

* Expansion and renovation at the veterinary medical technology building, at a cost of $5 million.

* Expansion and renovation at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, at a cost of $4 million.

* Assorted repairs to main campus buildings and the emergency services training center, at a cost of $4 million.

* Renovation at the business incubator, costing $1 million.

The college’s trustees had previously voted to ask for the bond issue and a referendum on it. But it was up to the county’s leadership whether the referendum would actually be placed on the ballot. As the funding agency for the college, when it comes to facilities, commissioners have the authority to leave matters such as that to the voters.

Most every bond referendum brings with it a lot of debate. It’s inherent in the process. Commissioner Jim Womack, one of the bond’s detractors — and there will be many more — said, “I don’t believe the community college has made a business case for a single building … based on local shortfalls and local education needs, and tied to specific skill sets.”

On the other hand, CCCC Trustee Bobby Powell, a former trustee chairman, noted, “We realize your pot of money is not endless. But we also realize that if we don’t present our needs as they present themselves, they’ll never get addressed.”

Both men had salient points.

Still, commissioners, whether they agreed or not with the referendum, did the right thing by putting the issue on the ballot for the public to decide.

The college has been a tremendous asset to the community. It is arguably one of our greatest economic engines. Timing of the issue dictated that the commissioners make a decision soon, and although some appeared not to agree with the merits of the bond issue, it’ll be on the ballot in November.

Now, CCCC faces the uphill climb of selling the community on the merits of such a large bond issue. Convincing the commissioners of the value of placing the referendum on the ballot is one thing; convincing the voters of the value of adding that much debt is another thing altogether.

The needs for the funding have been identified. It’ll be up to college supporters to tout to the public the benefits that such a referendum could have for the future of the school. And meanwhile — and this is how the process is designed to work — those in opposition to the funding plan will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about adding to the county’s debt load.

This important decision will be made by the very people who count the most — the taxpayers from whom the funding must come.

The commissioners rightly realized the referendum had merit enough to appear on the ballot. The rest of us will decide what happens next.