Despite a heavily partisan campaign season, Wake County District 1 commissioner candidates, Republican incumbent Joe Bryan and Democratic opponent Sig Hutchinson, want to focus on similar county improvements.
Education and large projects that will postively impact the lives of eastern Wake County residents, like creating a better county-wide transportation system, are at the top of both Bryan and Hutchinson’s lists, but that’s where the similarities end.
Hutchinson and Bryan both agree the county needs to do more to help with public education.
But the two have different ideas of what that help would look like.
Bryan said he would like to see the community focus on achievement goals and giving students and teachers adequate space to learn and teach.
The latter part of that goal was supported by the 2013 school construction bond referendum, Bryan said. The Wake County Board of Education is also working on a strategic plan commissioners are willing to support. That support will not neccesarily translate to money.
Before the county dedicates money to schools, Bryan would like to see the school system tap into its fund balance, or savings.
There has been debate over how much money is actually available, but Bryan said it’s “significant.”
“(Money from the fund balance) needs to be invested to improve our school system prior to asking the public,” he said.
Hutchinson said at the core of the various issues with education is a strained relationship between the current board of commissioners and the school board.
“The current county commission has a very poor working relationship with the school board which is really compounding difficulties that we’re currently having,” he said.
The county Board of Commissioners has a Republican majority while the Board of Education has a Democratic majority.
Raising taxes on both sides
In addition to addressing issues in schools, both Bryan and Hutchinson want to continue the county’s growth in the form of transportation and other quality-of-life projects, like greenways.
Hutchinson said expensive projects, like transportation, are key to attracting a steady stream of residents and taxpayers to help fund those projects through bond referendums or other tax increases.
Bryan, however, said the process should take a different path. It’s important to focus on economic development, like jobs and attracting business, before pursuing projects like transportation, he said.
Bryan, a former Knightdale mayor and town council member, said he wants to keep taxes low for residents and with a growing tax base, tax raises can be less burdensome.
“All the changes (Democrats) want to make .... there’s really no way of knowing how they’re going to make that happen,” Bryan said. “Their way is for higher taxes. It’s easy to be short on experience and long on promises.”
Hutchinson points out that recent tax raises came directly from the Republican-led board.
“The idea that Republicans are not going to raise your taxes is a fallacy,” he said. “Them saying they’re not going to raise taxes and we are is somewhere between silly and incorrect.”
Partisan board or all Democrats
Hutchinson is running with three other Democratic candidates across the county under a campaign, “More with Four.” Democrats Matt Calabria, Jessica Holmes and John Burns are running in their respective districts. County residents can vote for four commissioners in the Nov. 4 election, including ones not running from their district.
The Democrats are campaigning to end what they see as an inefficient commission because of party affiliations.
But Bryan said the Democrats have wrongfully identified the board as such and are ignoring strong resumes and visions that have served the county well in the past.
Plus, he said, no one wants a completely Democratic board.
“People want balance. They don’t want all one party,” Bryan said. “I can’t imagine anybody wants that.”
But Hutchinson, who has led six county bond referendums as a leader of various citzen boards, said it wasn’t his goal to pursue such a partisan campaign.
“There was a time in the not-so-distant past where partisanship made no difference on the Wake County Board of Commissioners,” he said. “More recently that is no longer the case ... Clearly that partisanship has led (Republicans) to an agenda that is different than our agenda.”
He said voters can see the split on the board in how often the board votes 4-3. Currently, there are four Republicans and three Democrats serving as commissioners. All four Republicans are up for reelection this year. In addition to Bryan, Commissioner Paul Coble, Rich Gianni and Phil Matthews are also seeking re-election.