Proposed Wake County budget would spend more, but leave tax rate steady

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2013 

SKULBUDGET11.NE.032912.CCS

Wake County Manager David Cooke

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Wake declines to join Raleigh on emergency operations center

    Wake County commissioners withdrew Monday from a joint project with the City of Raleigh to build a new emergency operations center, leaving the city to go forward on its own.

    The city invited the county to go in on the $69 million building it has planned on Brentwood Road to house its 911 call center, emergency operations center and a data center. The county has been mulling whether to move its emergency operations into the new building, where it could share resources and coordinate responses. Its share of the building cost would have been $4 million.

    The matter has been discussed for months, with the county paying extra to have the city determine the cost and usefulness of putting the emergency operations portion of the new building underground. City planners looked into it and decided the expense was not warranted based on the anticipated risks.

    County board members Paul Coble, Phil Matthews, Tony Gurley and Chairman Joe Bryan said they recognized the need for a new operations center; the current one is in a dank, overcrowded basement that doesn’t even have bathrooms for workers. But they said for safety reasons, they want the new center to be underground.

    They voted against joining in with the city.

— The Wake County property tax rate would remain steady for the fifth year in a row under the budget proposed Monday by County Manager David Cooke, though spending would increase on schools, public safety and environmental services, and county workers would be eligible for a raise.

The proposed $982.8 million budget for the year starting July 1 is about 4.7 percent larger than the current year’s budget. The growth is possible because of a growing real estate market and growing real estate and sales taxes, Cooke said.

“Real estate development is showing signs of recovery in new residential building permits, with an increase of 60 percent over the same time period from a year ago,” he said in a prepared statement. “The tax base is also projected to grow at a steady and modest rate of 2.67 percent, more than twice last year’s growth rate.”

Cooke’s proposed budget would hold the county’s property tax rate at 53.4 cents per $100 of value.

As unemployment continues to decline and the county’s population continues to grow – Wake has added nearly 100,000 people since July 2008 – spending increases. Sales tax revenue is expected to grow by more than 6 percent for the current fiscal year and is projected to grow another 3.1 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

All told, Cooke said, county revenues are expected to grow by $44.3 million, including a one-time infusion of $12.5 million resulting from a change in the way vehicle property taxes are collected under a new state law.

As promised by county commissioners in recent months, the increased revenue is reflected in increased spending on the county school system. Schools would get $327.5 million, an increase of $9.2 million over the current year’s appropriation. The increase fully funds the Board of Education’s request for $8.3 million in new funds, and adds more than $856,000 for the lease of the Crossroads Administrative Building in Cary.

The budget increases spending for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office by $3.8 million, or 5.6 percent over the current year. The money would be used to pay for 24 new detention officers at the Hammond Road Detention Center, which has been short staffed since the building opened in April 2012. The budget also includes hourly wage increases for some detention officers, and money to hire a resource officer for Rolesville Middle School.

The City-County Bureau of Investigation, a crime lab, will get additional money for supplies and materials, and to turn two part-time fingerprint examiner jobs into full-time positions.

Emergency medical services would benefit from an 11 percent increase in funding under the proposed budget, a measure Cooke said was needed to keep up with the needs of a growing population. The $3.5 million in additional money would fund new ambulances and 18 full-time positions plus another trainer and supervisor.

The Environmental Services department will get an increase of $515,000 under the proposed budget, money that would be used to digitize well and septic tank permits and to fund a staffer who would concentrate on contaminated wells and groundwater. The county’s Animal Care, Control and Adoption Center would get three new positions.

Finally, Cooke recommends a 2.75 percent performance-based pay increase for workers so the county can continue to recruit and retain “top-notch employees.”

The county will hold two public hearings on the budget, both on June 3, at 2 p.m. in the Wake County Courthouse, Room 700, and at 7 p.m. in the Commons Building of the Wake County Office Park.

Copies of the budget are available online at www.wakegov.com.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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