As chairman of the Wake County commissioners, Sig Hutchinson paints a rosy picture of the past year and the years to come.
Hutchinson delivered the annual State of the County address Monday evening, starting the speech with one of the county’s most-repeated statistics: Wake is growing by 67 residents per day.
Here are some takeaways from the address.
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Hutchinson said Wake is the second-fastest-growing major county in the United States. Its population now exceeds 1 million.
Among the county’s most important functions is to allocate money to Wake County schools, which make up the largest school district in North Carolina.
Hutchinson played up increases to school funding but didn’t mention details of growing tension between commissioners and school board members. The school board this year asked for a budget increase of $45 million but received less than half that.
It’s been a sore spot between the two boards.
“As far as Wake County’s commitment, in addition to being 52 percent of our $1.3 billion budget, we have increased school funding by 32 percent in the last four budget years, and the largest and fastest increases in the history of the county,” he said.
Hutchinson said 120,000 Wake County residents live at or below the poverty line, and the county needs 56,000 more affordable-housing units.
“That could grow to 150,000 units over the next 20 years,” he said.
The county is also losing 300 affordable homes each year to redevelopment, Hutchinson added.
He credited the county for its role in finding new homes for 136 families displaced from a recently sold affordable housing complex in Garner.
Last month, Wake adopted a new affordable housing plan that outlines a 20-year strategy for addressing the problem, in which the county takes a larger role as federal money for affordable housing dries up.
Wake is the top-ranked county in the state for health, Hutchinson said.
“The bad news is that North Carolina is ranked 35 out of 50 states as far as healthy populations,” he added. “So, whereas we might be the healthiest person in a room in North Carolina, let’s not kid ourselves: We still have a long a long way to go to truly have a healthy population.”
Feeding the hungry
Commissioners on Monday discussed a new comprehensive plan for food security. Under the proposed plan, Wake would use preserved farm land to grow crops locally and possibly require county-run facilities to buy a certain amount of their food from local farms.
Hutchinson said Wake hopes to expand the greenway system from nearly 300 miles to 600 miles.
“We’re also thinking about new cycling infrastructure running besides I-40, called the ‘Triangle Bikeway,’ ” he said. “If built, this will be the first-ever direct cycling connection from Raleigh to Morrisville to Cary, RTP and into Durham.”
Hutchinson also looked ahead to 2020, when construction will begin on the final, southern section of N.C. 540, otherwise known as the Triangle Expressway.
‘Resting on laurels’
“We must recognize that other cities and regions of our country are not resting on their laurels in allowing us to continue to be on every top-10 list in God’s creation,” Hutchinson said. “Whether it is Seattle or Salt Lake, Pittsburgh or Portland, these cities are innovating, investing, attracting new talent that in many ways is eating our lunch.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan
By the numbers
Number of times the word “education” was used.
Number of times the word “park” was used.
Number of times the phrase “affordable housing” was used.
Number of times the phrase “mental health” was used.