JEFFERSON-Wilkes Community College officials received a good faith commitment from Ashe County Commissioners Monday to share the financial burden of expanding or potentially relocating WCC’s Ashe Campus.
The commissioners voted to contribute up to $6 million in matching funds for the project in addition to the $4 million that is pledged by WCC.
This agreement, however, is all contingent on the passing of the Connect N.C. Bond referendum, which will generate approximately $5.24 million for WCC.
Monday’s vote came after a proposal by Commissioner Gary Roark of what an expansion of the Ashe Campus could like.
After touring the current facility, Roark said he could envision the relocation of the county’s bus garage to make room for a possible expansion.
This would allow for the expansion of the community college campustoward the high school.
Ultimately, Roark said he would be comfortable with a sizable educational center.
College officials have stated they are still in the planning stages of the project and are uncertain if an expansion at the current site or relocation of the campus is necessary.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Brien Richardson expressed his trepidation of making a $6 million contribution given certain variables of the construction process such as delays and as a result, mounting expenditures.
In that case, both the college and county would have to reconvene to find a suitable course of action, WCC President Jeff Cox said reassuringly.
Commissioners and WCC officials agree that timing for a possible expansion could not be better consider the current willingness to give by the college’s board of trustees and the elimination of certain county debt obligations. Ashe County could be in a prime position to invest in an expansion once the county finishes paying for Ashe County High School, Westwood Elementary, and the Ashe County Public Library.
Remaining on the county’s balance is annual payments of $760,000 for the high school and $730,000 on Westwood, as well as $409,000 on the library, according to county finance records.
Debt service on the high school ends this year and in 2017-18 at Westwood. County officials said the library should be paid off by 2019.
But the elimination of certain debts isn’t the only increase in funding the county will be enjoying.
Two years ago, citizens voted to increase the county sales tax by one quarter of 1 percent.
As a result, Ashe received roughly $540,000 a year with nearly all of that is going to Ashe Memorial Hospital annually.
The original agreement slated a three-year agreement with the next fiscal year being the last installment.
Originally, the hospital approached the commissioners to ask for $1.5 million in funding. Instead, the county said they would let AMH have the sales tax proceeds for three years.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.