Wake's budget proposal tops $1 billion, waits for state action on teacher raises

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2014 

Jim Hartmann, Wake County Manager

— Wake County’s 2015 budget – the first ever to top $1 billion – would increase spending on education and public heath and safety, but would not include a 3.5 percent pay raise for Wake County Schools employees.

Instead, the county will ask its legislative delegation to press for teacher pay raises at the state level.

County Manager Jim Hartmann presented his budget proposal to the Wake County Board of Commissioners at the board’s regular meeting on Monday.

The nearly $1.007 billion plan is a $24 million increase over this year’s budget, money that will come from improved sales tax revenues and a 4.4-cent property tax increase.

The property tax hike was approved by voters last fall to pay for $810 million in bonds for the school system’s capital improvement program. Voters had approved up to a 4.86-cent tax increase, but the county will get better interest rates on money it borrows to build and renovate schools.

The budget would increase spending on health and human services, including money for six additional child protective services workers and 10 more school nurses. It also would give the county’s emergency medical services system an additional $950,000 to hire more people and buy new equipment.

“While this budget is not able to fund all requests – either from county departments or the school system – it invests additional resources in the board of commissioners’ highest priority areas and funds the school building program that was approved by voters,” Hartmann said.‬

Last month, the Wake County Board of Education approved a proposal to ask the county for a $39.3 million budget increase, including $29 million for a 3.5 percent pay raise for all school employees. Hartmann’s budget would instead give the schools a $10.2 million increase.

In his proposal, Hartmann said the county would wait to see whether legislators approve Gov. Pat McCrory’s teacher pay increase.

“Once the state resolves this,” Hartmann said, “we will be in a much better position to understand future funding and decide how much to fund our school salary supplements, which is already the second highest in the state at an average $6,200 per teacher.”

Also in the meeting, the board approved a list of items it would like the Wake County legislative delegation to consider during the short session, which opened last week. The goals were revamped after some confusion at the group’s last meeting over what should be included.

At the urging of Commissioner Joe Bryan, the group reordered the list from Monday’s agenda, making the support of state-funded teacher pay increases the top priority.

It’s unclear whether legislators will embrace a McCrory’s proposal to increase the salaries the state pays to teachers. Teacher pay has become a flashpoint; since 2008, teachers across the state have had one raise of 1.2 percent.

Phil Matthews, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said that if the state doesn’t raise teacher salaries, Wake leaders will have to decide what to do next. Matthews said the school board could use funds it already has to increase the supplement if it chooses to.

He suggested school leaders take money from the schools’ fund balance or cut back on some of its language programs.

“That’s what I’d do,” Matthews said.

After the meeting, commissioners James West and Caroline Sullivan said the county should have a plan for paying teachers more in case the state fails to do so, to avoid losing more teachers even as the county prepares to open more schools for its growing student population.

During the public comment period, nearly a dozen people asked commissioners to approve the budget proposed by the school board, including the teacher pay increase.

The county will hold public hearings on the budget at 2 p.m. on June 2 in its meeting room in the Wake County Justice Center, and at 7 p.m. on June 2 at the Wake County Commons. The board will vote on the budget at its regular meeting on June 16.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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