RALEIGH — Three Wake County libraries that voters agreed to fund in a 2007 bond referendum likely should be delayed for at least a year because of flagging revenues and the cost of operating the branches, the Board of Commissioners heard Monday.
At a work session that included extended debate over a likely schools funding shortfall, County Manager David Cooke presented two options for proposed bond sales early next year. Both options put off bonds for libraries in Middle Creek, Morrisville and North Hills, as presented in the 2007 referendum.
"We would delay a decision on when we are going to build them," Cooke said after the meeting.
Commissioners will have to pick one of the options for a bond issue.
One of the options includes $2 million for renovations at the Southeast Regional, Wendell Branch and Zebulon Branch libraries.
A fraction of the money approved for libraries has been spent on repairs and renovations. The decision to postpone the new libraries rested in part on assumptions about growth in property and sales taxes, which have been revised downward since May, according to financial data presented to commissioners.
On the positive side, the county has benefited from lower rates on a portion of its debt financed at variable rates, Cooke told commissioners.
Both the options Cooke presented Monday contain funding for Rolesville High School.
In the wrangle over the school system's operating budget for next year, Commissioner Stan Norwalk said Wake might have to fire as many as 2,000 teachers to make up for expected cuts in state funding and the loss of federal stimulus funding it received for the current year. Norwalk got an angry response from board Chairman Tony Gurley when Norwalk proposed that the county sell unused land and convert the proceeds into operating expenses.
"Everything you are saying is so off-the-wall," Gurley said.
Norwalk persisted, predicting a possible shortfall of $120 million and suggesting that the system consider means such as using more portable and modular classrooms instead of building new schools.
"That's serious stuff," Norwalk said. "When that hits the headlines ..."
Gurley broke in: "So that's what this is about, generating headlines."
Wake County school leaders have said they are bracing for the loss of $100 million or more in funding in next year's budget.
The system will be losing $48 million in federal stimulus money that was used for additional Title I teachers and other functions that the district knew were funded on a one-time basis. But the state used $41 million in stimulus dollars to pay for nonteaching jobs in Wake, including 100 percent of the custodians and 60 percent of the clerical staff.
In addition, it's uncertain how much state funding Wake will lose as the legislature tries to close a shortfall next year estimated at $3 billion or more.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
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