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Five questions about CMS bonds

Here are five questions people may be asking about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bonds.

Q: Why don’t the numbers add up?

A: The ballot will ask approval for $290 million, but if you add up all the projects you’ll get a tad over $295 million. That’s because the county has committed to the $295 million plan; officials plan to use other methods, such as its pay-as-you-go fund, to cover the additional $5 million.

Q: Is the “no tax increase” promise solid?

A: Mecklenburg County officials kept the CMS request relatively low – Wake County voters approved $810 million in school bonds last week – so the county can cover the payments with the money they expect to take in at the current rate. The ballot language referring to “a tax to be levied for the payment thereof” can be confusing, and bond opponents have noted that current officials can’t keep future commissioners from raising taxes. That’s true, but barring financial disaster, they shouldn’t have to raise taxes to repay these bonds. And if the economy were to crash again, commissioners could simply stop or slow borrowing, as they did during the recent recession.

Q: Is CMS required to do these projects if the bonds pass?

A: No. Projects, costs and timelines are all subject to change. But CMS leaders know if they don’t honor the promises they made this year, voters will be wary of future bond requests. A group of citizen volunteers meet regularly to get updates and report on how well the district is carrying out its plans. And county commissioners could refuse to issue bonds if they believe CMS is betraying the voters’ trust.

Q: What happens if the bonds fail?

A: In 2005, two things happened. County commissioners agreed to pay for some of the most urgent projects with other forms of borrowing. And elected officials created a citizens panel to look for new approaches to school construction and renovation that would win public support.

Q: What about the N.C. education lottery?

A: Mecklenburg County uses lottery money – $9.5 million this year – to help repay construction debt, including bonds. Ann Doss Helms

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