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Vote No On All Three Huntersville Bonds

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There are three bonds on the ballot this election for residents of Huntersville: One called Street Bonds for $17,850,000; one called Public Improvement Bonds for $7,150,000; and one called Parks and Recreation Bonds for $5,000,000. That is a total of $30 million in bonds.

Click Here to link to the full description.

Spending money on Roads, Fire Stations and even Recreation Centers is great, and passing bonds is an excellent way to pay for those projects, but there are some BIG problems with these bonds: 1) they don’t have to be spent on any of the above, and 2) they will probably result in a property tax increase.

The wording on the bonds is intentionally vague and gives the Town Board the ability to spend it on anything within the wider parameter of the bond descriptions.

According to The Town’s own fact sheet:

“State law dictates the ballot question must be generally descriptive in nature and gives broad authorization to complete projects in categories. Therefore, Bond Funds have not been specifically pre-allocated, but the Town Board has discussed the following general types of projects within the respective categories. The Town Board in each case must still approve spending related to these projects.”

Huntersville Town Commissioner Danny Phillips, who is against the passage of all three bonds, says this is not true. “North Carolina law only says that the money must be spent on what is described in the bond. The town staff crafted language (at the Board’s direction) that allows the money to be spent on very long list of items, that’s why I don’t support them,” he said. Phillips also agreed that if residents approve a bond for a particular project and for some reason the money runs out, the town can always go back to the voters for more money. “That is no reason not to be specific.”

“I would also like to make it known that citizens need to pay attention to the wording in the bonds, especially involving the Street Bonds, because they focus upon things like Non-motorized paths” Phillips said. “The three bonds continuously overlap in what they cover, so how is the money going to officially be allocated for these projects?”

The list of projects is all ‘possible’ and ‘potential’ but none is guaranteed. In other words, passing these bonds is tantamount to issuing the Town Board a blank check for $30 million.

And, if the bonds pass, your property taxes will most likely go up. This from the Huntersville Herald: “Huntersville Finance Director Janet Stoner said she expects a tax hike of 3 cents per $100 of valuation in 2013 if the bond referendum passes, with additional 1-cent increases in 2015 and 2017. When voters approve a bond referendum, they are also approving any tax increase that may be needed to pay for them.”

“Your taxes will go up,” says Phillips. “It’s just common sense.”

Even the Lake Norman Chamber is underwhelmed. From a letter by President Bill Russell printed in the Lake Norman Citizen, “At the request of Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain, the Chamber board has voted to support the bonds and encourages Huntersville voters to educate themselves on the issue.”

The vote was 7 to 6, with much concern expressed about the tax increase. Here is that link.

It is interesting that directly under that is a letter from former Town Commissioner Ken Lucas, now of San Antonio, Texas, who says, “On Sept. 14, 2012, I wrote to each Huntersville Town Board member asking them to provide or direct me to the details regarding the proposed transportation bond that is before the voters in Huntersville. Specifically, I was looking for project details and associated costs.”

Look all you want, Mr. Lucas, there are none. And why is that?

For those of us who have been paying attention, this is a way for supporters of the Red Line to fund improvements associated with the site before, during and after construction. And they will say, “The voters approved it.”

At least three Town Commissioners are for the Red Line, and one has been seen putting up “Vote Yes” signs on his property in the downtown area. He can campaign for the bonds, but he and the other property owners in the rail area would most likely be asked to recuse themselves from votes regarding the Red Line, according to fellow Commissioner Melinda Bales.

If passed, the bonds are approved for a period of seven years, with an extension possible to ten years. Huntersville Town Management Assistant Bobby Williams, who wrote the Bond Fact Sheet, said in a phone conversation that, “The money for all three of the bonds on the Huntersville ballot can be spent on anything within the Huntersville town limits over the next 10 years.” When asked specifically if that included items associated with Red Line improvements he said, “You know, no one has asked that before, but yes, I guess it could.”

And what happens if these bonds don’t pass? This from the Huntersville Herald:

“The latest Capital Improvement Program (CIP) lists more than $42 million worth of projects for the next five years. Most of those projects would need funding from new bonds that may be passed by referendum.

This bond referendum would almost certainly require a property tax increase.

Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson presented his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year to the board at its Monday, May 7, meeting.

“The real question when you net it out is, do you believe there’s a willingness for the citizens to pay an increased tax rate amount to have some of these projects delivered,” Ferguson said. “There is no capacity to move big numbers of projects forward under current operating revenues. The growth is not there.”

The board is considering a $30 million bond referendum.

Ferguson said to get a bond resolution on the ballot in November, the board will have to approve the language to appear on the ballot by mid-June.

The board will discuss the operating budget in more depth at a special meeting Monday, May 14, at 10 a.m. Ferguson noted that revenues are increasing slowly as the economy continues to recover.

His proposed budget without the bond referendum would leave the property tax rate unchanged, and funding for most departments will be fairly flat.” http://www.huntersvilleherald.com/news/2012/05/10/town-board-to-consider-bond-referendum/

Note: There is still $1.5 million left from the previous bond passed in 2003.

Please vote NO for these bonds. Require Huntersville Town Commissioners to rewrite them for specific projects like Roads, Fire Stations and Recreation Centers with details and associated costs. Don’t give them a blank check. Tell your friends and neighbors.

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