Lumberton's Park Bonds

Lumberton's Park Bonds

Wilmington, NC – Morning traffic hums on Elizabeth Town road as early autumn winds blow through acres of Pecan Trees.

The old dairy farm reduced to an aging barn and silo sits quietly as residents debate whether it will become part of a new 91-acre park,a place former head of Lumberton Parks and Recreation Wendell Statton envisions filled with ball fields and walking paths.

We didn't want to come in here and level everything and cut every tree down and throw ball fields up that's not what it's for.

Statton sees the Northeast Park as a mix of passive and active attractions. On one side, ballparks, a skate park and an amphitheater. While the side with the Pecan Trees would offer open spaces and walking trails. Turning this patch of city property into Lumberton's own Central Park.

You are less than a half-mile from very upscale housing, the higher end of the housing market, you're less than a half-mile from public house, you're less than a half-mile from the high school, you're less than a half-mile from a main thoroughfare .

Residents against the Northeast Park point to that less than a half-mile from the high school and its ball fields already in place as a good reason why the Northeast Park should remain on hold. Not to mention the city's many other parks. But the price tag is their rallying cry. The park will cost roughly $8-million to build, and voters will decide whether the city should float $6-million dollars in bonds to help pay for it.

Statton and park supporters say it would cost $30 in property tax for the owner of a 100-thousand dollar home, the cost of dinner and a movie.

Yeah, I'd probably hand over $30, but it's not a matter of my handing over $30.

That's Barney Borne a Lumberton resident against the bonds.

Yeah, it would improve quality of life, but it would be at the expense of attracting businesses to the town, of attracting people to the town, attracting visitors to the town and our own expense of life because of the sales tax or property tax increase.

If voters approved the bond the city could chose to pay it off with a one-cent sales tax. Lumberton shoppers now pay 7-cents, and that extra one-cent would make it home to the highest sales tax in the state. Something Borne says will drive business out of town.

It's bad for business, it's bad for the individuals, it's bad for the hotels, we're not going to have as many tourists, and the ones we have are not going spend as much money, our own people are going to be elsewhere to spend our money.

Borne uses the Wal-Mart in Pembroke 12 miles away, as an example of the options Lumberton shoppers have. But the city could choose to hike property taxes. Borne and a group against the idea say the city can't afford the $6-million in bonds for the Northeast Park. City officials call the budget tight. Kevin Whiteheart, the city attorney, says it has $3.1 million in its undesignated fund balance. And if the city chooses to pay off the bonds through property taxes, he says financial planning is key for covering construction.

With the re-evaluation we'll start seeing tax payments coming in probably in December of this year and we estimate that construction probably won't start until late 2006 so that would give us a period of time to determine what the next tax rate will do for us financially and also to put some money into the coffers to be able to afford the start-up cost of construction.

In downtown Lumberton a steady flow of hungry customers line up at the Johnny's Hot Dogs. Owner Allen Tin-cot-tee props up a sign on the dashboard of his hot dog truck reading Vote Yes for Lumberton Parks. He says the idea of more taxes doesn't bother him if it means giving kids a new park, even if they city's not sure how it's going to pay for it.

I always worried about how anything is going to be paid for, but we've got um this brand new beautiful city hall, and it was paid for and I figure if we have money to pay for city hall then we have money to pay for a park for our children.

Park opponent Barney Borne says of course he'll pay his taxes but he'll be sad if voters approve the park bonds and if it fails supporter Wendell Statton says his group will continue its campaign to make the Northeast Park a reality Catherine Welch, WHQR News.