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Triangle Politics: Wake's Coble appears ready to move faster on transit

From staff reportsJuly 11, 2014 

County Commissioner Paul Coble has set a slow pace over the past three years for public discussion about bus and rail transit improvements in Wake County, but he might be ready now to ease his foot off the brake pedal.

At a July 21 work session, Wake commissioners will be asked to endorse what are largely Coble’s ideas for developing a new “transit investment strategy.”

Coble was board chairman in 2011 when former County Manager David Cooke outlined the Wake Transit Plan – which was never discussed at a commissioners meeting again. He has served as the board’s point person on transit since then.

Now Coble wants to see updated information about existing bus service and ridership, key employment hubs and transportation corridors that might pose heavy demand for transit service in the future, and the transportation needs of Wake’s 12 municipalities and rural areas.

“There needs to be equity,” Coble said. “We would not veto a plan because Wendell didn’t get the exact thing Raleigh did. But you’ve got to get everybody to the table, and you’ve got to get them to agree that the plan really helps everybody.”

Coble, a Republican, will be challenged in his bid for re-election this fall by John D. Burns, a Democrat. Burns says commissioners should let voters decide next year whether to approve a Wake transit plan and a half-cent sales tax to help pay for it.

“In the past, what they’ve done is talk about it and not really do anything about it,” Burns said. “And Mr. Coble has used it as an opportunity to express his belief that we don’t need the transit plan that is currently languishing in his top desk drawer. I hope this (work session) is a discussion that leads to action.”

Coble said he wouldn’t rule out a decision by Wake commissioners in time to get transit on the October 2015 referendum ballot.

“We need to make sure we get the best data and it doesn’t just sit on a shelf and become outdated because too much time passes by,” he said. “Once we kick it off, we need to be engaged.”

Baldwin calls for school planning

Speaking of transit, Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin wants the city to work more closely with Wake County schools as it plots new locations to serve a growing population.

Baldwin pointed to a recent debate over whether to build new elementary schools near the county’s borders or closer to downtown Raleigh. She told fellow council members this month that she’d like to see new schools built along current and future transit lines.

“This gives children and parents additional options for getting to school and may relieve stress on the (school system) budget for transportation and bus services,” Baldwin wrote in an email to the council. “It would also help us drive ridership and create walkable centers.”

Real estate, however, is cheaper in far-flung suburban areas, so Baldwin thinks the city can help make urban sites more affordable. She’s calling for more partnerships where parks and community centers can be built next to new schools – the sort of land sharing that’s already taking place at Brier Creek Elementary School.

To explore further cooperation, Baldwin is proposing a new task force with representatives from the city council, school board and Wake County commissioners.

Would Wake tax increase hurt?

Members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners have a difference of opinion about whether a proposed quarter-cent increase in the sales tax rate that could be used to pay for raises for teachers would have a major impact on taxpayers.

Shoppers in Wake County now pay a 6.75 percent sales tax; 4.75 percent goes to the state and 2 percent goes to the county. Democratic commissioners want to put on the Nov. 4 ballot a referendum asking voters to support raising the sales tax rate by a quarter-cent.

The extra quarter-cent would generate an estimated $27 million a year . A Wake County household with the median income of $65,826 with an assumed 24 percent taxable spending would see an average impact of $40 per year.

“It’s not asking anyone to pay anything terribly different than they already pay for taxes,” Democratic Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said this week.

But Republican Commissioner Joe Bryan, the vice chairman of the board, said the sales tax increase has to be considered in light of how the county is raising property taxes by 8.25 percent this year to repay last fall’s $810 million school construction bond issue.

“Again we are looking at a regressive tax on 120,000 people that are living in poverty who can least afford it,” Bryan said.

Commissioners will vote Aug. 4 on whether to put the referendum on the November ballot.

Political events

• Jamey Falkenbury, director of operations for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, will speak about the impacts of “Common Core” to the Wake County Republican Women's Club on Thursday at the N.C. State University Club, 4200 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh. Social begins at 11:30 a.m. followed by the lunch/program at 11:45 a.m. Lunch is $19 at the door. Pay by mail, P.O. Box 30454, Raleigh 27622 or online at www.wakerepublicanwomen.org. Contact us or make reservations by email, 1wcrwc@gmail.com, by Monday.

Compiled by Bruce Siceloff, T. Keung Hui and Colin Campbell

Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 919-829-4529, or send e-mail to metroeds@newsobserver.com. Send items by noon Thursday.

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