Bond items presented as way to continue growth

by Amy Kingsley

When Greensboro residents head to the polls on Nov. 7, they will have an opportunity not only to elect legislators and judges, but also to decide how loose the city should be with its purse strings.

On Election Day, voters will have the opportunity to vote on 11 separate bond items which, taken together, weigh in at almost $115 million dollars. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay an extra $30 a year in property taxes if the entire bond package passed and if all were issued at the same time, said bond booster Chip Hagan. But he said it is unlikely that homeowners will see that much of an increase. The bonds will probably not all be issued at once, Hagan said, and as new ones are issued older bonds will be retired.

Hagan is the committee co-chair of Keep Greensboro Going, a political action committee advocating for passage of the entire bond referendum. Voting yes on the following bond items is essential for continued growth and prosperity in Greensboro, he said.

Fire stations – $24.5 million

This bond allocating $24.5 million for the construction of five new fire stations is the second priciest of the entire bond package. If approved, the monies from this bond would be spent on the construction of five new fire stations in Reedy Fork Creek, Old Randleman Road, near the intersection of Painter Boulevard and Interstate 40, South Elm-Eugene Street and Willow Road.

The city council unanimously approved of adding this item to the referendum, and little public opposition to the initiative has emerged. Tom Phillips, one of the city council’s reliable fiscal conservatives, put it succinctly.

“Yeah, we gotta have fire stations,” he said.

Leon Nutes, an 82-year-old retired printer and city council gadfly, said he has some concerns about the fire station bond that he feels the city hasn’t addressed, although he said he is inclined to support bonds for public safety projects. The city recently built new fire stations on Lake Jeanette and Church Streets and he questioned the need for more construction.

“I believe it’s an unnecessary program,” he said. “Taxes have been going up and up and up.”

Public building renovation – $5 million

This was one of several bonds on November’s referendum that passed city council scrutiny without a single ‘no’ vote. According to the city website, these repair funds would pay for items like roof repair, new heating and cooling units and the installation of energy efficient technology that might drive down operation costs.

Economic development – $10 million

Money from this bond, if it’s approved, will be spent readying tracts of land for industrial or business development. That means extending water, sewer and other infrastructure basics to land that might be attractive to corporations eyeing Greensboro for relocation or startup.

“One of the things that has handicapped Greensboro in the past is not having builder-ready sites for businesses,” Hagan said. “That was brought home most dearly when Dell located in Winston-Salem.”

Phillips cast the lone vote against putting this item on the bond referendum.

“I don’t like slush funds and that’s kind of what I feel like that would be,” Phillips said. “Businessmen need to take business risks.”

Library facilities – $ 8.6 million

Councilmembers trimmed this item back from a $10.6 million project to one that’s a mere $8.6 million. Library Director Sandy Neerman said the money would fund the completion of a strategic plan laid out in 1998 to provide service to all Greensboro neighborhoods.

Among the items slated for completion are a 1,500-foot expansion to the Benjamin Branch Library, a new facility to replace the McGirt-Horton Branch and a library for the northeast part of Greensboro. A branch library for that neighborhood on Church Street closed in 2002.

Greensboro Historical Museum – $5.3 million

The Greensboro Historical Museum is a city-owned building, but the exhibits are often paid for by private dollars, Hagan said. The museum’s board of directors has raised $1.6 million to acquire display items for the facility, he said. If approved by voters, the $5.3 million in bond money would be used for building renovations.

“They’ve done a great job,” Hagan said. “[The museum] is a real treasure in our community.”

This item faced no city council opposition to its placement on the bond referendum.

War Memorial Auditorium – $36 million

This item is the most expensive one on the bond referendum, accounting for almost a third of the price of the total package. Despite its hefty price tag, the item earned full council support. Phillips even said the initiative – despite its apparent expense – is an example of fiscal restraint.

“That facility is dreadful,” Phillips said of War Memorial Auditorium. “It’s never had any money spent on it. Right now, I don’t even want to go to programs at War Memorial.”

For $36 million, the auditorium could afford upgrades to lighting, acoustics, lobby and interior appointments that would bring the facility up to par with those in surrounding cities.

“It’s a whole lot cheaper than building a new facility,” Phillips said.

Parks and recreation facilities – $5 million

This lump sum includes a number of smaller parks and recreation projects, from building a skate park and expanding bike trails to setting aside land for future parks in the southwest and around Lee Street. The proposed bike trails are a major component of the city’s proposed bicycle-pedestrian plan.

Phillips voted no on adding this one to the bond referendum, but not because he thought the projects were unworthy.

“There are a lot of good projects that frankly I’d like to defer a little bit,” he said. “I’m just concerned that our economy is not strong enough.”

Hagan considered this item an investment in Greensboro’s future.

“We’ve always been very proud to have a good park system in Greensboro,” he said. “And this is just continuing that tradition.”

Neighborhood redevelopment – $850,000

The least expensive item on the referendum – accounting for less than 1 percent of the total package cost – earned a single no vote from City Councilman Mike Barber on its way to the ballot.

The money from this bond item would fund the completion of redevelopment in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood, a project begun in 1979. Blighted buildings would be destroyed, affordable housing developed and other properties fixed up if this bond passes on Nov. 7.

War Memorial Baseball Stadium – $5.5 million

Baseball didn’t disappear from this eastside facility when former residents the Greensboro Bats changed their name to the Grasshoppers and moved downtown. More than 200 Little League and college games, including match-ups with the NC A&T baseball team, happened at War Memorial last year, Hagan said.

This project is in part about maintaining our memorial facilities, Hagan said. It is also about improving bathroom facilities, locker rooms and public spaces.

Phillips and Florence Gatten voted against putting this item to the voters. It’s an issue of timing, Phillips said and added that the project would be better undertaken when the local economy is stronger.

Swimming center – $9 million

Relentless lobbying over the summer from the tanned and sunbleached members of the Greensboro Swimming Association helped move this item onto the ballot in November. It has not enjoyed overwhelming support from the Greensboro City Council. Mayor Keith Holliday and council members Sandy Carmany and Dianne Bellamy-Small voted against the $9 million project that will be managed by Greensboro Coliseum staff.

“I felt like it needed to be a public-private partnership with the YMCA or YWCA where we would pay half the cost,” Holliday said. “A nine million dollar facility that would be used by swim team members instead of the general public is not the kind of project I think the community needs.”

Hagan portrayed the facility as a public pool that would accommodate both competitive and burgeoning swimmers.

“The City of Greensboro has not built a public pool in over thirty years,” he said.

International Civil Rights Center and Museum – $5 million

The final item on the bond referendum is arguably the most controversial. Opponents portray the International Civil Rights Museum’s $5 million request as a taxpayer bailout of a nonprofit venture doomed by its founders’ incompetence. Supporters say the matching funds are essential for the completion of a facility honoring Greensboro’s unique place in civil rights history, a project that would otherwise be hobbled by bad luck and a slowly recovering economy.

“It is an important statement that our city has a unique role in American history,” said Amelia Parker, the executive director of the museum.

She said that taxpayers have paid for similar facilities in Birmingham, Ala. and Cincinnati, Ohio. The entire downtown area would benefit from the presence of a world-class museum, Parker said.

The International Civil Right Museum is a bond item Phillips opposes for more than timing reasons.

“It is not a city facility so it shouldn’t be on a city bond referendum,” Phillips said, adding that tax money should not pay for a project that should already be completed.

“[Earl Jones and Skip Alston] have just squandered opportunities,” Phillips said. “They’re incompetent. They didn’t get it done.”

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