This is budget time for both the City of Raleigh and Wake County, and the proposed budgets reflect an enlightened view of growth and the demands it presents. They also recognize the need for investment after some lean years.
The Wake County commissioners, now all Democrats, have gotten a worthy budget from County Manager Jim Hartmann that reflects their priorities. It’s a welcome change after too many years under GOP commissioners whose main priorities were holding the line on taxes and antagonizing the public schools. This budget has imagination and foresight.
The county schools, for example, will get a 10 percent increase, which is desperately needed in view of fast growth in the student population – an average of 3,000 more students per year – and the failure of Republicans in the state legislature to adequately fund public education. While that’s short of Superintendent Jim Merrill’s pitch for more money, it’s certainly a great improvement.
Though Hartmann didn’t offer Merrill what he wanted, the county manager did sound positive notes about seeking ways, in the long term, to pay for Merrill’s goals on student achievement.
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The overall budget is up over 6 percent, and though a small property tax increase will be needed, that’s OK. The county hasn’t had one, except for hikes connected to paying for new bonds, since 2006. That’s not been a good sign in a growing, prosperous county.
Wake Tech, which is training people seeking new job skills and also taking on more students seeking to ttransfer to a four-year university, is getting a nice boost, also appropriate.
And Wake County Human Services needs the additional jobs it’s going to get. Hartmann also recognized the need to invest in libraries, so there will be more money there in this $1 billion-plus budget.
The manager also put in for some additional personnel in the Wake Sheriff’s Office, which needs more deputies to reflect not just the county’s growth but the increasingly frustrating task of helping inmates who arrive at the jail with mental health issues because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Raleigh’s budget proposal from City Manager Ruffin Hall has come in at just over $830 million, and, like the county budget, it reflects the pressures on a growing city. And like the county budget, a small property tax increase is in the mix, though Hall noted for council members in a presentation this week that the hike was largely to pay off $92 million in parks bonds that were given the go-ahead by voters last fall.
More growth, more services
Hall’s offering seems reasonable. It’s true that growth brings many benefits in terms of what a city can do because of additional revenue from new businesses and the benefits of new jobs, but it’s also true that services are under increased demand as the city’s population edges upward.
Take the building boom. That’s good news, but the city has to hire more building inspectors to keep up with demand. And it has to make larger investments in the city’s infrastructure, things like adding water and sewer lines and watching things like stormwater runoff and making sure developers do what’s required when it comes to restoring streams and preserving green space. That requires more city staffers.
Growth also means that public safety has to be bolstered, making sure that police and firefighters have what they need to cover the additional areas for which they’re responsible.
Hall, a former assistant city manager in Charlotte, has a good grasp of what Raleigh needs. He understands as well that the residents in the Capital City set a high standard for their public officials. Hall therefore vowed that his budget would help in “providing a high level of service.”