A $2B bond that would bring projects to 76 counties, including $4.7 million to Sampson Community College and a significant agricultural investment that could serve to benefit Sampson’s equally sizable ag foundation, will be on the March 15 ballot — and local officials are rallying support for the measure.
The Connect NC bond was approved by Gov. Pat McCrory, the N.C. General Assembly and the UNC Board of Governors for placement on primary election ballot. It is now up to the voters.
Dr. Paul Hutchins, president at Sampson Community College, met with several other local officials, during an informal Tuesday meeting at the Sampson Cooperative Extension Office, mulling over strategies toward informing people in the county about the importance of the $2 billion bond. It is “critical” voters be educated on its benefits, he attested.
“As the president of the college, I’m a huge advocate for passing the bond because it’s going to directly impact Sampson Community College to the tune of $4.7 million,” said Hutchins. “That might be a selfish reason, but all 58 community colleges in North Carolina will benefit from the bond. This will infuse some funds we would not otherwise have.”
Should the bond pass, Hutchins said more details would come as to what SCC plans for the funds.
“This is our one shot to do something to modernize some space,” said Hutchins, noting a lack of state and local money.
The SCC president said that the college’s Board of Trustees has already approved a resolution in support of Connect NC, and he similarly urged email blasts and social media campaigns, as well as encouraged residents to talk with friends and neighbors about the importance of the $2B bond.
More than two-thirds of the Connect NC bond will go to fund critical improvements in higher education, including capital projects that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, career readiness, medical sciences and business for 17 UNC System campuses along with $350 million for needed upgrades for the state’s 58 community colleges.
SCC would receive $4,774,533 for new construction, repairs and renovations, according to the bond proposal.
Specifically, the UNC System will receive $980 million to build and repair STEM facilities, while N.C. State University will receive $160 million to support two major projects on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus — the Engineering Oval and the Plant Sciences Initiative Complex, an $85 million endeavor that bond proponents said would establish North Carolina as the world leader in plant sciences research and innovation, further spurring the ag industry.
County Extension Director Eileen Coite pointed to the Plant Sciences building, which would help Cooperative Extension indirectly, as farmers would benefit from the research there which, in turn, would be a boon to Sampson’s already huge agricultural foundation.
“When you talk about this Plant Sciences building and the amount of produce grown in Sampson County,” said Coite, “I think that, in itself, will be a direct link to us.”
Agribusiness if the No. 1 sector in North Carolina’s economy, at $78 billion a year. Every dollar spent on agriculture research in this state returns nearly $20 in economic benefit, bond proponents have noted. Over the next 25 years, 84 percent of the U.S. agricultural jobs are projected to be in the plant sciences disciplines.
The $2 billion bond will connect North Carolina to the 21st century through statewide investments in education, parks, safety, recreation and water and sewer infrastructure, McCrory has said.
It has been 15 years since the last general obligation bond was authorized to upgrade state infrastructure and since then North Carolina has added 2 million people in population. The Connect NC bond will allow the state to pay for 50-year assets with 20-year financing. No tax increases are necessary to finance the bond, given strong revenue growth and ample debt service capacity, the governor said.
Proponents of the bond say now is the time, pointing to the current “historically low” interest rates.
J.W. Simmons, whose “We Should Know” radio program regularly airs on WCLN, said he could offer support in getting the word out to voters. Commercials, radio spots and other advertisement were thrown out as options during Tuesday’s meeting, as were erecting signs similar to political candidate placards. Janna Bass, special projects coordinator at SCC, said a simple email to family talking about the local benefits of the bond, whether a student, farmer or someone else across the community, could go a long way.
“A lot of times when I see something like this I think it’s only going to benefit Wake County,” said Bass. “It’s important it be tied specifically to Sampson County.”
“The people who are not supportive of this might say that Plant Sciences building is just another part of N.C. State or it’s a $2 billion debt,” Simmons remarked. “At the end of the day, folks are going to hear what they want to hear. We’re living in a society of bullet(points).”
He said getting a clear, concise message across was key — and having that message resonate locally.
Simmons said while the only direct beneficiary locally would be Sampson Community College, that college produces nurses, teachers and numerous other professionals who then use their SCC education to benefit the community as a whole. That is the benefit, they said.
John Swope, executive director of the Sampson Economic Development Commission, said this was simply an opportunity that does not often come up, alluding to the same financial obstacles to which local entities are often confronted.
“North Carolina is a very popular state and you have to pay for these things. We have such needs when you talk about services to the people,” Swope said. “When are you going to come up with this kind of money, these kind of projects, against everything else? You have water/sewer systems that are in dire need and you have other infrastructure — so if you don’t have a bond like this, when is this ever going to happen?”
The bond also provides $75 million for facilities at 45 state parks; $25 million for the facilities, trails and exhibits at the North Carolina Zoo; $70 million for the National Guard; and invests more than $300 million in statewide water and sewer loans and grants to meet the demands of a growing population.
The group agreed that the clock was ticking on spreading the message of the bond. Coleman Simpson, a freshman at N.C. State University, spoke to City Council about the importance of the bond.
Similar presentations need to take place locally, they said.
“You have to get information in front of people,” City manager Shawn Purvis said. “As a public entity, we can’t say ‘vote yes or no’ so you want to make sure they can see the benefits of them voting — whether it’s on the radio or TV, or talking to civic groups. The community college and the ag (aspect) is what benefits us.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.