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Bonds plan has $32.9M for Robeson

December 23, 2015
The Robesonian

Robeson County would get about $32.9 million, including more than $20 million for projects at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, if a proposed bond package approved Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee becomes law, according to Sen. Jane Smith.

The $2 billion Senate bond proposal must still be approved by the full Senate and state House before it can be put before North Carolina voters, who ultimately will decide if the state should borrow the money to cover projects in the package.

According to The Associated Press, the Senate committee’s proposal reflects a consensus reached by both House and Senate Republican leaders. That consensus reportedly includes holding the statewide referendum on the same date as the presidential primary, which legislators are expected to set for March 15.

According to Smith, a Democrat from Lumberton, the proposal calls for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to get $23 million for the construction of a new School of Business; Robeson Community College to receive $7,296,568 for new construction and renovation of existing facilities; and Lumber River State Park to get $2,628,750 for park improvements.

The proposal does not provide for any of the bond money to go to the Public Schools of Robeson County or any of the state’s other public school systems for school construction, Smith said.

Under a bond package approved early last month by the House, Robeson County public schools would have received more than $13.1 million for new school construction, additions and renovations. RCC would have received $4,492,942 for new construction, repairs and renovations of facilities; UNCP would have gotten $10 million to renovate West Hall; and $3,305,000 would be available to develop the property of the former North Carolina Indian Cultural Center into a state park.

Smith said that overall Robeson County fared well in the Senate Finance Committee’s proposal, which she said Tuesday should easily pass the full Senate.

“Of course it’s not over yet,” she said. “The House also has to approve the plan before any referendum can be set.”

Smith said that it took a strong last-minute lobbying effort to get the funding for the UNCP Business School into the Senate proposal. As of Monday, she said, there was nothing allotted for UNCP.

“I spent the past couple days days running around and talking to everyone I could think of about the need to get the business school included in the bond package,” she said. “We were really hoping for $31 million, but we’re happy with what we could get.”

UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings told The Robesonian that he was “very excited” when he heard the Senate Finance Committee had added the $23 million for the new business school to its proposal.

“This is something that we have been needing for a long time,” Cummings said. “For eight to 10 years, this has been included in the capital project plan of the university’s Board of Governors.”

Cummings said that UNCP’s School of Business is now housed in a 50-year-old building where classrooms are small and not designed to meet the modern needs of students. Because the School of Business received the highest accreditation available just two years ago, it is especially important that an upgraded facility be provided so UNCP’s business programs can grow and provide students with the up-to-date training, he said.

“Having a first class business school sending out students to work in the region makes sense economically,” Cummings said. “The demand for these students in the nine counties we serve is already here. This is a springboard into the future in many ways.”

Cummings said that $35 million is needed to construct the business school building. He said the university intends to raise the additional money through donations and other means.

The Senate proposal is a watered-down version of the Connect N.C. bond package that Gov. Pat McCrory has been promoting across the state. The governor wanted a package of about $2.85 billion, including proceeds for highway construction that have been left out of both the Senate and House proposals.

The Senate bill ups the appropriation to the University of North Carolina system by $59 million to $980 million. It adds back three of seven projects that House leaders originally included but the Senate did not. The three restored projects are new business schools at UNCP and North Carolina Central University and a science building renovation at Fayetteville State University.

The Senate proposal also reportedly adds an additional $45 million for repairs and renovations at UNC campuses across the state.

According to the new proposal, the state’s 58 community colleges will receive $350 million, down from $400 million. The colleges will also be required to provide matching funds for any new construction they want to pursue.

The compromise also calls for $75 million for state parks. The North Carolina Zoo’s allocation, however, is down to $25 million from $45 million.

The House and Senate leaders compromise also cuts funding for water and sewer grants and loans from $451 million in the Senate bill to $306 million. No transportation projects are included in the final proposal.

The Senate is expected to hold the first of two required votes today, with the House voting sometime next week.