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Politics

$477 Million in Bonds on Ballot in Mecklenburg

http://66.225.205.104/LM20081029.mp3

In an election season when North Carolina has been overrun with political ads, mailers and phone calls, it's harder to get information on the less glamorous issues to stick. "I've had so much information on the candidates this year from the President all the way down. I haven't gotten involved with the bonds in Mecklenburg. There's too much information," says early voter Scott Thrower. Campaigners for the bonds say his predicament is common. And so they're trying hard to be heard and seen. A small group showed up at the Panthers game last Sunday to talk up the bonds to tailgaters and pass out stickers. Many people take information. Several say they plan to vote for the bonds and a few challenge the campaigners. "It actually does not increase your taxes," says a campaigner. "Well, they say that every year," says one man. "The government should live within its means. Therefore we wouldn't have to borrow," adds another tailgater. "We have to do things that continue to improve our environment. And I'm happy to do that for my family and my kids," says a campaigner. Borrowing in this economy has become a concern especially when the city has put in place a hiring freeze and the county has talked about delaying some construction projects. But city officials say the $227 million worth of city bonds would not mean higher taxes since the city has already calculated that debt based on the current tax rate. Both Republicans and Democrats on the city council support all three city bonds. City Council Member At-Large Anthony Foxx says they'll pay for much-needed infrastructure. "The city of Charlotte between 2002 and 2006 didn't build a single city road. These bond funds for transportation will allow us to get back into the road construction business," says Foxx. $170 million would help pay for five major road projects including the City Boulevard extension, and widening portions of Statesville and Rea Roads. The rest of that money would go toward smaller projects like expanding bikeways and maintaining intersections scattered throughout the city. A $47 million Neighborhood Improvement bond would repair city sidewalks, curbs and gutters. And a $10 million Affordable Housing bond would help provide homes for low-income families. On Mecklenburg County's side, a $250 million park bond will go before voters. That money would be used to purchase new land and improve parks throughout the county. Scott McClure co-chairs the bond campaign. "It takes roughly 18 months to get do the planning to get a bond referendum on the ballot. If land becomes available for us to buy in this community the elected officials need to be ready to buy it," says McClure. The parks bond would also include funds to build a sports complex in Matthews, develop a recreation center in the northern part of the county and renovate the Aquatic Center in uptown. McClure and county commissioners have emphasized if the bonds pass it doesn't mean they will be sold right away. The board will have seven years to spend that money and commissioners have said they'll wait till they know the county can definitely handle that debt. But that doesn't ease County Commissioner Dan Bishop's concerns. He was the lone commissioner who voted against putting the bond package on the ballot. Bishop says the bond doesn't make sense when there's speculation that other county projects may be delayed due to the economy. "We're going to defer 100-million dollars in construction projects for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and yet we're still rolling forward to approve a 250-million-dollar bond referendum?" says Bishop. Residents of Charlotte have the option to vote yes or no for $477 million of city and county bonds. Mecklenburg County residents living outside of Charlotte will only have the parks bond to consider.