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Wednesday, 05 September 2007 00:00

Bond hearings planned in Macon

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Macon County leaders will get their first real taste of how the public feels about a $64 million bond vote at a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, in the Macon County courthouse.

Macon residents will be voting on a slate of construction projects totalling $64 million in a countywide vote on Nov. 6

The bulk of the money is for schools, but the list includes a new recreation center, community college expansion, a new Highlands library and new county buildings.

With just two months to go before the election, no organized opposition to the bond has yet emerged. County commissioners are optimistic about the bond’s chance.

“The reports I am getting out in the community is that they are very supportive,” said County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “If we want to be a progressive county and looking to the future, these are what we are going to be needing.”

Beale said the public hearing should be insightful, however.

“We are anxious to see what the public has to say,” Beale said. “You don’t know who will come out to public hearings.”

One concern among bond supporters was that the county’s large retiree population wouldn’t support such a huge dollar amount for school construction since they don’t have kids in the schools. But Beale has found otherwise. Last week, Beale attended the monthly meeting of the Cullasaja Community Club. The members were mostly retirees, and many who moved to Macon from elsewhere, but they all supported the bond, Beale said.

“They said ‘where we came from, at one time, somebody had to build a place for our kids to go to school,’” Beale said.

Projects on the ballot include:

• $42.1 million for schools.

• $9.4 million for a mega recreation center complex.

• $6.5 million for fixing up public buildings.

• $3 million for a new Southwestern Community College building.

• $3 million to improve Highlands’ library.

Voters will also have the chance to vote up or down a property transfer tax on the November ballot. The state recently gave counties the option of levying a tax on all property transactions equivalent to 0.4 percent of the sale price of a home or land. Macon County commissioners had unanimously endorsed the state legislation. When it passed, commissioners promptly decided to put on the ballot along with the bond measures.

Unlike the bond projects, the property transfer tax has attracted an organized opposition movement. Largely driven by Realtors, a group called Macon County Concerned Citizens Against the Land Transfer Tax has emerged in the recent weeks. The group plans to take its message to the public over the next two months, said Alene Kiesel, broker with Preferred Properties and member of the Franklin Board of Realtors.

“We have mapped out a strategy,” Kiesel said. The strategy will include media publicity and public forums.

The group is neither opposing nor endorsing the bond projects as part of its campaign, said Chris Roesner, a broker with Exit Smokey Mountain Realty.

The land transfer tax would raise $2.3 million annually based on the current value of real estate transactions — enough to cover annual debt on about $40 million worth of the bond projects.

The Macon County School system is planning a series of public meetings and forums to pitch a plan to voters for new schools, school consolidation and new school districts. The meetings will cover why a $42 million school bond is needed for new construction and expansion. A meeting is being held at each school in the county to share with parents how that particular school will be affected. Some schools will be consolidated or replaced, while the lines of other school districts will change. All forums are held at the school listed.

• Cartoogechaye Elementary School, Sept. 13

• Highlands School, Sept. 18

• Cowee Elementary School, Sept. 20

• Cullasaja Elementary School, Sept. 25

• East Franklin Elementary School, Oct. 4

• Franklin High School, Oct. 9

• Iotla Elementary School, Oct. 11

• Macon Middle School, Oct. 16

• Nantahala School, Oct. 18

• South Macon Elementary School, Oct. 23

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