EDITORIAL: Referendum requires Harnett residents to make tough choices

Aug. 07, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

A referendum appearing on the November ballot should have special meaning for those in western Harnett County, especially those who have young children. After all, the funds would be used for school construction.

The county’s public elementary schools are all well over capacity in the western areas, and the middle and high schools are at or approaching capacity as well. Much of the growth stems from rapidly expanding developments along Highway 87, which runs between Fayetteville and Sanford.

Commissioner Joe Miller, who represents residents of the county’s western reaches, was quoted in a Fayetteville newspaper as saying, “The next school to be built will be Southwest Harnett Elementary. There are a lot of other needs, too. We all know that’s where the greatest need is. We need to make sure the measure on the ballot lets voters know how we would be using this money.”

Informing constituents will be essential, especially considering that county residents have voted down four referendums in the last six years.

The Herald reported earlier this summer that Miller, along with the rest of county commissioners and the Harnett County Board of Education, met and agreed that construction of five or six new schools was necessary, and that a sales tax increase was the fairest way of raising at least some funds for the new schools rather than, say, a property tax increase.

Both boards also said they thought the previous tax increases were defeated at the polls because not many people knew about the needs of the schools, or even that the revenue would go to building new schools. So this time, the officials are working with community activists — many of them young mothers — to spread the word.

The population growth in the county, especially in the western Harnett area, has been well documented. The incoming students will have to go somewhere. If more schools are not built, there likely will be a greater need for mobile units at existing schools. The district’s other alternative, bussing students to other areas of the county, is already happening — with some students riding the bus for close to an hour both to and from school.

The prospect of additional taxes is not pleasant for the residents of Harnett County, nor any other county or municipality. Yet, it’s safe to say most parents want their children in a safe environment within a reasonable proximity to their homes. Superintendent Tom Frye has stated several times that the mobile units are not as safe for students and staff as regular classrooms.

There are no easy answers. Some concessions will be necessary whether or not this referendum passes. Harnett County residents will need to search their hearts and inform their minds to decide which sacrifices they’re most willing to make.