09/15/05 — Duplin looking forward to more school funds

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Duplin looking forward to more school funds

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 15, 2005 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The recent passage of a lottery in state General Assembly was good news for Duplin School Superintendent Tommy Benson.

He said he was told the lottery could be implemented in another six to eight months. Forty percent of the proceeds to Duplin County would be used for construction of some badly needed school buildings.

Duplin County's share of the lottery money has been projected at $1.3 million in the 2006-07 school year and the following school year. After that, it jumps to $4.9 million in school year 2008-09 and to $5.3 million in 2009-2010.

Benson said 50 percent of the lottery proceeds would be used to reduce class sizes and to get more 4-year-old children into pre-kindergarten, and 10 percent would be used for college and university scholarships.

He said he didn't expect the lottery to pass because of the opposition and the strong feelings a lot of people have about state-sponsored gambling. But he added, "to not have to rely solely on tax money will be a great help. A lot of people think that's not the way we should do it. But now that it's here, we might as well take advantage of it."

He expects the next big push to be for a half-cent sales tax option that passed the Statehouse, and hopes it will pass in the Senate, as well, when the General Assembly reconvenes in May. He said the two measures, the lottery money coming to the county and proceeds from another half-cent sales tax, could possibly fund the cost of the school system's $43 million building plan. He said annual payments on the project would probably be about $2.5 million.

The additional half-cent sales tax for Duplin would be a fair way to pay for school improvements, he said.

"Everybody pays rather than the property owners footing the bill for everything," he said.

State Rep. Russell Tucker pushed to have Duplin included among the 15 counties named in the half-cent sales tax bill.

Tucker said he had Duplin tacked onto the local bill, which would authorize county commissioners in those counties to ask voters to decide in a referendum whether the county can impose another half-cent sales tax for education. He said the money would be ear-marked for building public school and community college buildings in the 15 counties.

The local option half-cent sales tax bill started out as a Pitt County bill only. Now, there are 15 counties involved in House Bill 1050.

Other counties have gotten on board in a separate bill. Tucker said it would have slowed down the process of getting the bill passed if the lawmakers had added the other counties onto HB 1050.

If the bill passes the Senate in May, it will allow the county commissioners in the 15 counties to call for a referendum in November 2006.