New school pledged by 2013

A new elementary school to relieve crowding at Torrence Creek Elementary School will be ready for the start of classes in August 2013, Mecklenburg County commissioner Karen Bentley said.

In a letter to the Observer and other media outlets last week, Bentley wrote that the trust of parents of children at Torrence Creek "has been eroded by a system (that) has promised them a new school for years."

"Throw in a soured economy and a new project ranking system, and trust becomes further eroded," wrote Bentley, a Huntersville resident.

"I clearly understand this. What I am asking from the parents at TCE who have so patiently awaited the construction of this new school is to hold me accountable, should I choose to seek re-election."

"I will make this happen for you," she wrote.

Bentley hosted a meeting Monday for Torrence Creek parents, Mecklenburg County finance staff, Mecklenburg commissioners and officials from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Huntersville.

They discussed the county's new approach to funding its capital improvements plan.

"Funding for the proposed Stumptown Elementary School is something that I've been working toward and passionate about since becoming a member of the county board," Bentley wrote in her letter.

The new funding system attempts to better manage how taxpayer dollars are spent on construction, with the ultimate goal of managing the county's debt load and protecting its AAA bond rating, she wrote. Projects are ranked according to measured criteria and whether the county can afford to spend the money, she said.

Two tiers of funding will occur on capital projects over the next two years. At Tuesday's county commissioners' meeting, the board approved the first tier of projects.

Stumptown Elementary is on the second-tier list, which the board will consider next summer during work on the budget for fiscal 2012-13, Bentley said.

At Tuesday's commissioners' meeting, however, Bentley and county Finance Director Dena Diorio told the board they would bring a capital ordinance to the commissioners in April, before the regular budget season, to allow Stumptown to be finished by August 2013.

"This timeline has been confirmed by CMS as the earliest completion date possible, even if Stumptown Elementary funding had been approved in the first tier of funding," Bentley said.

"Some will ask, 'Why not approve the funding now in anticipation of releasing the funds in April 2012, to give local residents the confidence that indeed Stumptown will be built as planned and promised?' " Bentley said. "As in life, success in political debates is often a function of timing. Although I considered requesting an amendment to Tuesday's ordinance, I did not have majority support for passage.

But the board "now clearly understands, and I believe supports, that funding for the Stumptown Road project will be presented next spring prior to the other Tier 2 projects," Bentley said.