State parks Director Mike Murphy is hopeful that the North Carolina General Assembly will decide to put bond referendums containing funding for state park projects on an upcoming ballot.
Both Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina House have proposed bond packages that could funnel money to projects at Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain state parks.
“This would be a huge boon to us and could not come at a better time because 2016 marks our centennial,” he said last week. “Add to that the fact that we have these historically low interest rates and the state has an opportunity to borrow at low interest rates that would not result in a tax hike.”
Both bond proposals would provide $2.8 million in funding for renovations at the Vade Mecum property which was added to Hanging Rock State Park last year.
“That still will not be enough, the reality is most of the funding will have to come from other sources,” said Murphy. “We hope we can get the cabins, the rec hall, the swimming pool and Cheshire Hall renovated.”
He said they also still need to fix sewer issues and the access bridge at the Moores Springs Campground area before that can be opened to the public.
“There is plenty to do and ultimately it will take more than $2.8 million,” he said. “It is just going to take time to get that to the condition that we would like it to be in. In just a few years we will be able to make good use of parts of it.”
Both proposed bonds also include close to $6 million for Pilot Mountain State Park.
“We are going to build a new visitors center there,” he said. “It is one of the most iconic parks in the state and it does not have a visitor’s center. That will be a huge benefit in the local area.”
But if the bond referendum does not make it to the ballot, or if it does and voters choose not to approve it, Murphy said funding for these projects could be very limited.
“If none of that were to occur, we would be back to where we are now, which is to say that if we add a project to the state parks they are financed with the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund,” he said, noting that money in that fund is limited. “We have projects in every park that need to be done.”
Gov. Pat McCrory has been pushing for $2.85 billion bond package that includes funding for road improvements and other capital needs across the state.
“The best thing your readers can do is contact their legislators and ask them to put the bond issue on the ballot as soon as possible,” he said. “The longer we wait the more likely it is that interest rates will rise.”
House Speaker Tim Moore and other chamber leaders unveiled late Monday an alternative overall $4 billion spending plan, including a $2.85 billion bond that would mostly go toward a beefed-up list of infrastructure projects laden with new additions.
Among the spending plans not included in the governor’s proposal is $500 million for upgrades and renovations to public schools, $110 million for an agricultural research lab, $75 million for clean water and sewer projects and hundreds of millions more for university and community college projects.
The House bond includes $400 million in roads borrowing, but the chamber offers to pay for more transportation upgrades in cash, at a cost of almost $1.3 billion over six years, drawing from a Senate plan to free up cash by ending annual transfers out of the state’s highway fund.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said senators have yet to review the full list of projects on the House plan but would be more open to using a borrowing plan to fund infrastructure while paying for transportation projects out of the highway fund.
In a statement, McCrory praised the House for taking up a bond package, which he said “aligned” with his earlier plan.
Both plans would give millions for upgrades to National Guard facilities, state parks, the state battleship museum and the state-owned North Carolina Zoo, among other capital projects.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.