It could cost the average Wake County homeowner more than $115 a year in higher property taxes to help pay for the next round of school construction projects.
Wake County Deputy Manager Johnna Rogers said Wednesday that it will require a 4.25 cent property tax rate increase per $100 valuation to pay for the seven-year construction programs for the school system and Wake Technical Community College. That works out to $115.08 more per year on the average assessed Wake home of $270,778.
“It’s a one and done,” Rogers told a Wake school board committee Wednesday. “A one-time tax increase funds the full seven years of the plan.”
Wake leaders are expected to ask voters next year for their support for raising property taxes by placing a bond referendum on the ballot. The Wake County Board of Commissioners will decide by the end of this year whether to put the measure on the May 2018 ballot or wait until the November 2018 general elections.
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Rogers said that if voters don’t approve the next school bond that the property tax increase could be higher from looking at other ways to borrow money to pay for projects. She said the alternative could be that the school district and Wake Tech have to reduce the number of projects or change the timing of when they’d be done.
Wake voters have shown a willingness over the years to raise taxes to pay for public projects. In November, voters backed a sales tax increase of a half-cent to help pay for a 10-year, $2.3 billion plan to add commuter rail and increase bus service throughout the county.
Wake voters last approved a school construction bond referendum of $810 million in 2013. That decision raised the property tax rate by 5.53 cents.
Instead of putting a school bond referendum on the 2016 ballot, commissioners and school board members agreed last year to wait until 2018 at the earliest to go to voters for a bond referendum. The county is using other funding to cover the first two years of the district’s seven-year, $1.98 billion construction program.
The plan is expected to help Wake accommodate 25,000 new students over the next seven years. It could pay for 14 new schools, 11 major school renovations and various other projects.
“I’m extremely confident that this program will be funded as the county commission has committed to do,” said school board member Bill Fletcher, chairman of the board’s facilities committee.
A May 2018 referendum would put the vote on the same ballot as the primary elections that traditionally have lower turnout. A November 2018 referendum would put the measure on the same ballot as congressional and state legislative races.
In the meantime, school leaders are updating last year’s plan to run through 2024. For now, Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said staff are using current class sizes for the building program and not the new state-mandated K-3 class-size reductions slated to go into effect in the 2017-18 school year.
School districts are lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation that would reduce the extent of the class-size cuts. If class-size limits are not eased, Desormeaux said, the new sizes could require Wake to hire 470 more teachers and reduce school capacity by 8,000 seats in kindergarten through third grade.
“Where will we find 400 additional K-3 certified teachers that we’d want to hire?” Fletcher said.