Macon County Commissioner John Shearl took to his personal Facebook page to seek input regarding whether or not a new Franklin High School Facility should be constructed. In his post, Commissioner Shearl asked “Do you support a tax increase to pay for it? (Up to 33% higher property taxes)” The claim that the construction would result in as much as a 33% increase in property taxes raised a lot of questions as prior to Shearl’s post on Facebook, that figure had not been reported by anyone or published anywhere.
Macon County resident Hazel Norris addressed commissioners Tuesday night seeking clarification.
“I wanted to speak to you all tonight about a couple of things I have seen on Facebook and about some things that have been twisted a little bit because I think a lot of people don’t know where those numbers have come from about the high school,” Norris said. “I think the commissioners or somebody needs to address some of these so we can see where we are getting all these numbers from because people don’t need to be divided…if you could just address it, because there are a lot of concerns, its a big concerns and there are a lot of people who don’t want the high school now because they think their taxes are going to go up an additional 33%.”
While Norris did not specifically mention Commissioner Shearl’s Facebook post in her remarks, Commissioner Shearl responded, admitting that he was aware his post caused the confusion.
“I know that a lot of that is referencing a Facebook post that I did questioning the new high school,” Shearl said. “The numbers are skewing all over the place. We were presented with a $120 million school… realistically, a $120 million high school financed at 20 years, what is that? 6 million without the interest rate? So if 1 mil [one millage] creates $1 million, that is 6 mils without interest. So that is 6 mils added on to your property taxes, without interest… so if you do the math, the numbers are right.”
According to Shearl, he made his calculation and came up with the 33% figure based on figures from the county’s financial planner.
Macon County Commissioner Danny Antoine said that he reached out to county finance director Lori Hall for additional information regarding what would occur with taxes if the county moved forward with the new high school. Based on the information provided, Antoine corrected Commissioner Shearl and stated that the 33% he claimed was not accurate and the high school could be built without that.
“Our millage rate is currently at .27. Without the grant, in order for us to build a new high school, we would have to take that millage rate from .27 to .30. That is an 11.8 percent increase and even at .30, that is still the lowest tax rate in the whole state of North Carolina,” explained Antoine. “And that is without the grant. That is no grant at all.”
Antoine continued and said had the quarter-cent sales tax that was on the ballot during last November’s election, the increase needed would be even less.
“If that would have passed, we would only have to raise the millage rate by 1.6,” said Antoine. “With the grant, there should be no tax increase whatsoever to build the high school. Now to be more clear on that, with the grant, lets say we get the $60 million grant, if we choose to build Phase 1 out of the fund balance, roughly $13-$14 million, we are not financing this full $120 million.”
Antoine also stated that he is going to stay optimistic that the county will receive the grant funding
.Macon County Manager Derek Roland said that the numbers Antoine provided were accurate and despite Shearl’s differing interpretation of the numbers, Antoine’s clarifications were actually the correct figures provided by the county’s financial advisors in May of this year,
Macon County is in the process of once again applying for the state’s need-based construction grant which would provide the county with $60 million toward the cost of the new facility. Commissioner Paul Higdon has said that without securing the grant, he couldn’t support building a new high school. Commissioner Shearl has stated he doesn’t support building a new high school or building a new high school at the current location. Commissioners Gary Shields, Josh Young, and Danny Antoine have expressed their support of moving forward with the project as it is currently proposed.
Commissioner Shearl said that his intention behind his social media post, which has since been deleted, alleging the “up to 33% percent increase” was not done to serve as a scare tactic but was made because he wanted the public to be informed about what they would be doing if they chose to move forward with building a new high school.