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Are local governments obligated to use taxpayer bond money for the specific purpose cited during the referendum?

Patrick Gannon

When New Hanover County voters passed a parks and recreation bond referendum in 2006, they ballot read as follows: “Shall the order authorizing $35,000,000 of bonds secured by a pledge of the faith and credit of the County of New Hanover to pay capital costs of providing parks and recreation facilities, including the acquisition and development of land, the construction and development of athletic fields, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and recreation centers, and the provision of related library, museum and beach improvements and including the acquisition and installation of machinery and equipment therefore, and a tax to be levied for the payment thereof, be approved?”

Prior to the vote, the city of Wilmington and county distributed a list of projects that they proposed to pay for with the money, including additional tennis courts at Empie Park. But Wilmington City Attorney Tom Pollard said the city and county aren’t legally bound to spend the money on those specific projects, as they weren’t listed on the ballot. But the money must be spent on parks-related projects, Pollard said.

It’s possible that a particular project could cost more than the amount estimated in advance and that another project might not be built because there’s not enough money, Pollard added.

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