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Camden OKs grant for school

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Thursday, October 5, 2017

CAMDEN — Camden County's ambitions to build a new high school got a boost Monday after commissioners agreed to submit a grant application that, if approved, would provide $15 million toward construction.

At their meeting Monday, Camden commissioners voted unanimously 5-0 to submit a Needs-based Public School Capital Fund grant application to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The application was presented by interim County Manager Stephanie Humphries, who said upon the commissioners' approval she would submit the grant this week.

According to county documents, the purpose of the grant is "to assist lower wealth counties (development tier one and tier two counties) with their critical public school building capital needs."

"Grant funds must be used for new capital projects only, and cannot be used for real property acquisition or for operational lease agreement, unless the lease agreement was entered into on or before June 30, 2017," the documents state.

The grant requires a county match of $1 in local funds for every $3 in grant funding, or in this case, $5 million. If awarded, that would put the total amount the county would have to spend toward new school construction at $20 million.

The county is estimating the total cost of construction at a little more than $33 million. Humphries said after Monday’s meeting county officials aren’t sure where the remaining $13 million will come from. Two options include potential bond revenue or an increase in property taxes, Humphries said. The $5 million for required matching funds has already been budgeted, she said.

The county has already bought a 60-acre tract on which to build the new school.

Monday’s decision follows commissioners’ agreement during a retreat this summer to support a joint resolution with the Camden Board of Education to seek a grant for the school.

The resolution cites several reasons why the county wants to build a new school. One is that Camden County High School is more than 60 years old. Another is county officials’ conclusion that renovations are not cost effective. A third is that the current high school is "landlocked by a railroad track and two major highways, thus preventing expansion."

The county's interest in building a new school comes at the same time it is moving forward with plans to build a new administration building. County officials have said each project is being funded by separate revenue sources.

Also at Monday's meeting, commissioners approved several amendments to the county's current ordinances that regulate new solar farm construction.

The amendments are the result of input county officials received from a panel of experts at a forum in early September. The panel included representatives from the N.C. State Clean Energy Technology Center, the renewable energy program for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The amendments address the county's plan in the event a solar farm project has to be decommissioned.

"A decommissioning plan/obligation shall be part of the lease between property owner and developer," the amended text states. Additionally, that obligation will be updated every five years or upon a change of ownership of the solar facility or of ownership of the land.

The amendments strike from the ordinances an original requirement that the facility's owner, prior to receiving a building permit, provide a bond, cash escrow deposit or "letter of irrevocable credit" to the county. That amount would have to be equal to the estimated decommissioning cost and would be used by the county if the owner failed to decommission the site in accordance with county regulations.

Other examples of the amendments approved by the commissioners include the following:

• A 50-foot buffer starting at property lines that shield solar farms from routine view from public rights of way or adjacent residential properties;

• The site will be surrounded by a fence at least six feet in height and must be able to be locked closed and be located at a minimum 50 feet from property line;

• All solar electric generation equipment must not be taller than 15 feet; and

• If the solar facility does not produce electricity for a continuous period of 12 months than it has another 12 months to complete its decommissioning.

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