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Wednesday, 30 November 2016 15:59

SCC asks Macon for 40 percent of bond project cost

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Southwestern Community College is asking Macon County commissioners to pitch in 40 percent of the cost to construct a new training facility for first responders — much more than the 25 percent match the county was anticipating.

The training facility — referred to as the burn building — is located on SCC’s Macon campus and was identified as a top priority for replacement through SCC’s master plan process. The building is literally set on fire for firefighter training purposes, but is in desperate need of replacement after 30 years of use. 

With the passage of the $120 million Connect N.C. Bond referendum in March, SCC is set to receive $7.17 million to spend on capital projects. SCC earmarked about $1.4 million of the $7.17 million to replace the burn building and the bond requires the local government to match $1 for every $3 of bond money being used.

While discussing the project recently with commissioners, County Manager Derek Roland said the county wanted to use the land value of where the burn building will be constructed as its matching funds for the project. The county owns 12 acres next to the Macon SCC campus on Siler Road where the new building would be located. 

“It will take two appraisals to confirm the value of the property — one from the county and one from SCC — then we take the average value of both of those,” Roland told the board. 

Roland said the structure and parking lot would only occupy about 3.5 acres, but that the remaining acreage would essentially be undevelopable after the burn building is constructed.  

“By the time you meet lot sizes and propose another building with setbacks and buffers — at that point you just can’t make it work in there,” he said. 

While the land donation sounded like a win-win for commissioners, SCC President Dr. Don Tomas said it wouldn’t be enough to fund the project. The burn building construction alone will cost an estimated $1.9 million — SCC budgeted $1.4 million with the assumption Macon would have to kick in the remaining $475,000 for its match. 

“$7.1 million doesn’t go very far for the projects we need at the college,” Tomas said.

If commissioners decide to only use the land as matching funds, SCC will be short on cash needed to complete the building. Tomas said SCC would need the land and $475,000 from the county to complete the project. 

Roland suggested asking the SCC Board of Trustees to revisit the project and its price tag. He reminded Tomas and commissioners that the county and SCC signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) a couple of years ago that clearly stated the county wanted to assist with SCC projects by offering up the land as matching funds.  The way the SCC board budgeted for the projects “assumes by default that the land already comes with it or they already had the land,” Roland said. 

“The bottom line is we’re in a situation where we either give them the land and come up with half a million or we discuss it with the SCC board to redraw something that fits our price range,” Roland said. 

The commissioners agreed to discuss other options with the SCC board before making a decision.

Tomas said SCC would also have to ask commissioners to fund the cost of the land appraisal since SCC didn’t have that expense budgeted into the project or its annual budget. 

Since the building is paid for locally but used often by out-of-county departments, Commissioner Ronnie Beale had proposed at one time the idea of charging those non-residents to train in Macon County. However, he said he found out the county can’t lawfully do that.  

Tomas said those first-responder training groups are also exempt from paying tuition to SCC so recouping expenses is difficult.

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