Panel studies growth

Wake task force report due in May

Staff WriterApril 13, 2006 

The question came from the audience for an expert on local government who had just spoken: What do you recommend we do about growth?

"That's your problem," replied JoAnne Carter, managing director for the Public Financial Management Group.

The audience laughed, but the answer was serious. The task force of 65 residents, business executives and former public officials has met since early January to figure out how Wake County can deal with growth.

Tuesday morning, they hit the homestretch with a meeting at the Exploris museum.

After learning about the county's needs for education, water and sewer, open space, transportation and criminal justice in previous meetings, the task force broke into small groups to talk about each subject.

The groups will share their recommendations with each other April 25, and the task force will put together a draft report in early May that will be sent to county commissioners.

It could not come soon enough. According to the U.S. Census, only 10 counties nationally added more residents than Wake County last year.

That growth has put a strain on the county's budget, with commissioners and the school board discussing a bond that could be as much as $1 billion for new schools on next fall's ballot.

The discussion so far has been wide-ranging.

On Tuesday, Carter and another consultant, Dean Kaplan, discussed alternative ways of financing county projects such as schools and jails.

To build schools, Wake County currently relies on property tax revenue to pay off voter-approved bonds. But that can cause property tax bills to skyrocket, making voters wary of approving bonds.

Carter noted that some fast-growing counties have found another way of doing things.

Montgomery County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, charges developers two impact taxes to pay for public school construction and relief from traffic congestion. The two taxes raise $44 million a year.

Gwinnett County, Ga., east of Atlanta, instituted a short-term local sales tax to build 2,000 classrooms.

In Virginia, some counties have worked with private companies to build schools and roads, but those kinds of partnerships are rare in the United States.

"Maybe Wake can lead us there," Carter said.

Staff writer Ryan Teague Beckwith can be reached at 836-4944 or rbeckwit@newsobserver.com.

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