RALEIGH -- Wake County commissioners held their first meeting in the new Justice Center on Monday, christening the space with a unanimous vote to move ahead on an $810 million school bond referendum in October.
The meeting started with a continuation of the fanfare that had marked the day. In the morning, nearly two dozen county and court officials cut a ceremonial ribbon on the $183 million Justice Center. A couple of hours later, the judges of the countys Superior and District courts convened a mock joint session in a seventh-floor courtroom. And as commissioners convened their meeting, a color guard from the Wake County Sheriffs Office presented the flags and deputy Robert D. Davis sang the national anthem.
Today we celebrate a milestone, Chief District Court Judge Robert Rader said in a brief address at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Justice Centers atrium, attended by about 200 people.
Each of those who wielded a pair of gold-painted scissors represented legions of others who had a part in the buildings design or construction, will work in it, or is a member of the public who will use it.
The Justice Center combines the countys criminal court system, record-keeping, and administrative functions.
In their new space, commissioners got to the business they had declared would be their No. 1 priority for the year: ushering through a successful bond referendum to fund the construction and renovation of schools. With legislation pending that could give county commissioners the power to take over the construction and maintenance of schools, there is still tension between the Republican-led Board of Commissioners and the Democratic-led Board of Education, but both groups are moving ahead with a plan to hold a bond referendum on Oct. 8.
Voters would decide whether to approve the sale of $810 million in general obligation bonds that combined with other funds would be used to fund nearly $984 million in planned projects. The work would include 16 new schools by 2018 and six major renovations, plus equipment replacement, technology, security and land acquisition.
Commissioner Tony Gurley questioned the wording of the school boards resolution asking commissioners to move ahead with the bond referendum. Gurley said it wasnt clear that all members of the school board support holding the referendum in 2013.
Commissioners have repeatedly said the two boards need to be in agreement about the bond sale in order for voters to embrace it. It will require a tax increase.
In the end, Gurley voted along with the rest of the panel to file the required legal notices, schedule a public hearing for July 15 in regard to the bonds, and schedule the referendum for Oct. 8.
Gurley was the lone commissioner to vote against a plan to lend $700,000 to Marbles Kids Museum for the construction about 900 square feet of new exhibit space. The space would house an exhibit called Kid Grid, where children would learn about the generation, transmission, distribution and use of energy.
Gurley said he opposed the proposal because the money would come from the Reserve for Future Projects Account, funded by the local hotel/motel/prepared food tax, and projects typically have to compete for funding from that account. He said the proposal circumvented the competitive process.
County Manager David Cooke said the fund is used for capital improvements on the museum, the IMAX theater at Marbles, and Five County Stadium, and that the expansion could be viewed as an improvement to accommodate the growing number of visitors Marbles gets each year. Also, he said, the money will be repaid in about five years.
Last year, 450,000 visitors came to Marbles, museum director Sally Edwards said.
The board approved the loan. The new exhibit is expected to open in June 2014.