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Election 2022

$97 million bond packages are investments in future, city manager says

Referendums on public safety, infrastructure and housing bonds are on the Nov. 8 ballot

Campaign signs greet early voters at the Kiwanis Recreation Center.
Campaign signs greet early voters at the Kiwanis Recreation Center.
Photo by Bill Kirby Jr.

Fayetteville residents giving thought to the $97 million in bonds on the Nov. 8 ballot may wish to give a listen to the city manager.

Residents will vote in referendums on three bond packages: $60 million for public safety projects; $25 million for public infrastructure; and $12 million for housing opportunities.

Look at all of them, City Manager Doug Hewett says, as an investment in the city.

“While each a separate vote, the three Fayetteville Forward bond referendums have the potential to move our city forward by providing funding for transformative investments in long-identified needs that directly impact resident safety and security,” Hewett says. “All told, the investments will improve the quality of life in our city in the areas residents have consistently shared through our community surveys are most important.”

Referendums on the general obligation bonds were unanimously approved on Aug. 8 by Mayor Mitch Colvin and City Council members Kathy Keefe Jensen, Shakeyla Ingram, Antonio Jones, D.J. Haire, Johnny Dawkins, Chris Davis, Larry Wright, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Yvonne Kinston.

Among municipal needs, the city says on its website, are enhanced safety and emergency services that would include land acquisition, relocation and construction of fire stations; renovation of existing fire stations; and construction of a logistics center and Police Department call center.

Included in the $25 million package for public infrastructure are street resurfacing; sidewalk and intersection improvements; and bicycle paths.

Housing needs would include development, rehabilitation of existing homes and homeownership programs.

Should the bonds be approved by voters, city residents can expect a property tax increase. The city currently has a $249.17 million annual budget for a population of 208,778, according to Jodi Phelps, chief of staff for the city.

Without the bonds, the planned improvements would be more expensive, city officials say.

“If the $60 million bond doesn’t pass for public safety, we’ll borrow money at a much higher interest rate for the 911 center, whether we try to work with the county on their $30 million facility or buy or build one for half that ourselves,” says Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins. “We’ll have to upgrade police and fire stations over time, (which means that for) many years it’s pay as you go for those needs as the city grows.”

City street and road upgrades, he says, are at a critical stage.

“Without the streets and roads $25 million, we’ll limp along spending our usual $4.5 million a year in Powell Bill funding and put a little money each year to patch-spray filler for the next many years on our streets,” Dawkins says. “I will vote to spend a couple million a year on sidewalks and delay needed repairs-replacement of sidewalks, without the $25 million for infrastructure.”

The housing bonds, officials say, can eliminate the need for property tax hikes.

“The $12 million on housing opportunity would help us move our growing rental market to more of an ownership market, thus helping grow property tax revenue without a property tax rate increase,” Dawkins says. “Owners tend to take better care of their property. Plus, they tend to invest in their property versus renters, which increases property values.”

None of the other City Council members who supported the $97 bond referendum — Colvin, Jensen, Ingram, Haire, or Banks-McLaughlin — responded to an Oct. 18 email from CityView seeking comment on the referendums.

Property tax increase

Should the bond packages pass, information on the city’s website estimates a property tax increase of as much as 4 cents per $100 valuation would be needed.

For a home valued at $100,000, the property tax increase would be about $3.33 per month, or $40 per year, the city website says. A home valued at $200,000 would be taxed an additional $6.67 per month, or $80 a year.

“That’s equivalent to the cost of a cup of coffee a few times each month,” the city website says.

According to Angie Amaro, director of the Cumberland County Board of Elections Office, city voters will decide the three bond referendums separately.

“They are on the back side of the ballot for voters that reside in the city limits of Fayetteville, along with the charter amendment,” Amaro says.

A referendum on changing how members of the City Council are elected is also on the Nov. 8 ballot. The mayor and four council members would be elected at large; the five other council members would be elected by district.

Early voting continues from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through Nov. 4 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 5.

For city residents, early-voting locations are at Cliffdale Recreation Center, 6404 Cliffdale Road; College Lakes Recreation Center, 4945 Rosehill Road; East Regional Library, 4809 Clinton Road; Kiwanis Recreation Center, 352 Devers St.; and Smith Recreation Center, 1520 Slater Ave.

What others are saying

The last bond referendum was on a $35 million package for parks and recreation in 2016 that passed overwhelmingly and has resulted in myriad projects that include the Segra Stadium Kids Zone and Rowan Street Skate Park in 2019; splash pads in city parks; and completion of the Bill Crisp Senior Center in west Fayetteville on Oct. 25.

“As a community, we should always invest in our future just like in 2016 with the investments in our parks and recreation,” says state Sen. Kirk deViere, who championed the parks and recreation bond when he was a member of the City Council. “Timing is everything. In the last two years, close to $1 billion has come into our community from the state and federal levels, and we should ensure that our elected leaders make the best use of this funding and continue to find ways to leverage it for greater resources for the betterment of our community.

“We should act collaboratively and not in silos like with the 911 center as an example. The $97 million investment is needed for our city as we continue to play catch-up to the growth due to annexation many years ago as well as the underfunding of critical infrastructure and services we saw for many years.

“This investment will take time to make an impact, as we have seen with the parks bond,” deViere says. “I would have liked to have seen this type of investment two to three years ago for many reasons, including the increase in interest rates.”

John Elliott was at the Kiwanis Recreation Center recently, where early voters have been coming in a steady stream.

“It’s always good to invest in infrastructure,” said Elliott, a local banking executive. “But anytime you invest (public funds), we want it done right.”

Others were leery about the three bond packages.

“I want them to tell me where the money is going,” said Virginia Rouse, after voting with husband, Mickey Rouse, and friend George Turner.

They were not the only early voters that day who said the oppose the bond packages

“It’s more about where they are getting the money from, and why I didn’t vote for it,” said Rhonda Nobles.

If you vote no

So, what if the bond initiatives fail?

“If voters do not approve the bonds, the projects identified will remain priorities for the city,” City Manager Hewett says. “It is possible it could take years, perhaps decades, to see some of these improvements become a reality without the acceleration general obligation bonds could provide. Taking the tax rate increase to voters through a general obligation bond is also the most transparent way to proceed. The city would be statutorily obligated to spend funds generated from the associated tax increase only on activities described in the specific language included on the ballot.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Fayetteville, elections, bond packages, City Council, referendum