Wake County’s economy is strong and its leaders are making progress on their promises to voters, Board of Commissioners Chairman James West said Monday.
In his “State of the County” address delivered at the board’s meeting, West touted increased spending on schools and also transit – two promises made by Democrats who were elected in 2014 and gained control of the board.
This year, the county gave Wake schools $24 million more in funding than the previous year – but nearly $12 million less than what school leaders said they needed to avoid cuts.
Voters this month also approved the $2.3 billion Wake Transit Plan, which includes commuter rail and increased bus service.
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“The need for more and better transit service is clear when you consider how fast Wake County is growing,” West said. “Our population increases by 64 people per day, and that’s not projected to stop anytime soon.”
Increased spending has led to higher taxes. Commissioners raised the property tax rate 3.65 cents last year and then another 1.35 cents this summer. The transit plan includes a half-cent sales tax hike.
Republicans who ran for two board seats this election raised concerns about the rising cost of living in Wake County. But their Democratic opponents, Greg Ford and Erv Portman, each won by more than 50,000 votes.
In a “State of the County” video, commissioners looked ahead to their plans to help some of Wake’s most vulnerable residents. They want to continue providing more food for impoverished students and add 42 new affordable housing units in Raleigh for senior citizens.
“Think of the hourly workers in the customer-service industry,” Commissioner Jessica Holmes said in the video. “They have jobs, but they don’t always make enough money to cover their rent, pay the bills and buy food and clothing. So they have to choose, and that is tough. We want to make it easier for our lower-income residents to have more affordable options.”
The county received numerous accolades this year. It was named one of the healthiest workplaces in America, Forbes called Raleigh one of the best places for business, and Knightdale was named the most affordable town in the state, West said.
“I’m proud of the many achievements we’ve made this year to benefit our residents,” he said. “We couldn’t have accomplished these things without our dedicated county employees and our talented executive leadership team.”
Charles Hellwig, vice chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, said the board’s decisions aren’t always popular. He pointed out that 47 percent of Wake residents voted against the transit referendum Nov. 8.
“They passed tax increase after tax increase and convinced a small majority of Wake voters to vote for a bad transit plan which will serve a tiny fraction of Wake’s residents while most of those who pay for it will never use it,” Hellwig said. “Wake County is an amazing place to live, but that is despite this current board, not because of it.”
By the numbers
Some figures that highlight Wake’s growth:
▪ $224 million in new investment
▪ 2,800 new jobs created
▪ 16 new companies added
▪ 29 existing companies expanded their enterprises
▪ 294,000 meals served through the county’s Universal School Breakfast program – up 25,000 from last year
▪ $24 million more in funding for the Wake County Public School System than the previous year
Source: Wake County Board of Commissioners