Wake commissioners say they want school bond passed in 2013

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 15, 2013 

Wake County commissioners said Friday that one of their top goals is to get a school construction bond issue approved by voters this year, even as they continue to fight with the school board over school construction and other issues.

During a retreat Friday, commissioners reviewed the potential financial impact of putting a school bond issue on the ballot in October and how it likely will require a property tax increase to get the money needed. The review takes place as tensions have sharply increased between the school board and commissioners, especially over the issue of school ownership.

“My objective is successful passage of a bond issue this year,” said Joe Bryan, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. “No one ever said it would be easy.”

Last month, the Republican majority on the Board of Commissioners approved asking state legislators to pass a law allowing them to take construction, ownership and maintenance of school facilities away from the school board. Commissioners also asked for legislative changes that would allow them to help build facilities for charter schools and to change the way Wake school board members are elected.

The Democratic majority on the school board has called the proposals a power grab. Each side has agreed to retain lobbyists, potentially costing taxpayers $125,000, to make their case to state legislators.

Facing tax increase

In the meantime, county staff members said Friday that there’s only about $40 million available in bonds in the next few years if property taxes aren’t raised.

“If we want to have more bonds in the next three to five years, we’ll have to have a tax increase,” said County Manager David Cooke.

County staff said that a $600 million bond issue for school construction would raise property taxes by 3.09 cents, or $61.80 more a year on a $200,000 home. There also would be a separate tax increase to pay for operating the new schools. Cooke repeatedly said the $600 million figure was hypothetical.

Need for schools great

School administrators have preliminarily identified a need for 13 to 26 new schools by the 2016-17 school year to keep up with growth. School officials also will want money to pay for renovation of older schools.

Wake, which has the state’s largest school system with about 150,000 students, hasn’t had a bond issue since a record $970 million package was approved by voters in 2006. The school board in June will present how much money it wants for school construction. But the final decision on putting a bond referendum on the ballot rests with the commissioners.

On Friday morning, several mayors urged commissioners to go ahead with implementing a transit plan for Wake County. “Transit is going to have to be discussed,” said Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles, president of the Wake County Mayors Association. “We’re going to have to quit playing politics.”

Several groups want the commissioners to put on this fall’s ballot a referendum on a half-cent sales tax that would be used to pay for transit needs, such as extending bus service and creating a light-rail system. Republican commissioners have resisted putting the transit tax on the ballot, with Commissioner Paul Coble saying Friday it wasn’t commissioners’ job to increase Raleigh’s transit system.

In terms of the fiscal year that starts in July, Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers said the county is projected to have about $18.4 million more in tax revenues to be split among county departments, the school system and Wake Technical Community College.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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