Wake County recommends nearly 3-cent property tax increase

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes, chairwoman of the board.
Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes, chairwoman of the board. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Wake County's proposed budget includes a nearly 3-cent tax hike to increase funding to the Wake County public schools and dedicate money toward the county's affordable housing efforts.

It would add $87 on the tax bill on a $300,000 home under the proposed plan. Wake County residents have seen the property tax rate increase every year since 2014.

The new property tax rate would be 64.4 cents per $100 valuation, or a 2.9-cent increase.

County leaders got their first formal look at Wake County Manager David Ellis' proposed budget during Wednesday's meeting.

The $1.32 billion budget includes $30 million in additional funding for the Wake County Public School System but falls short of the $58.9 million in additional funding the school board said it needed. The total recommendation to the school system from the county is $461 million.

"Our role is to balance the budget," said Jessica Holmes, Wake County commissioner chairwoman. "Education is and will continue to be my very top priority. This budget as it is presented will provide the highest per-pupil spending in Wake County history, even adjusted with inflation."

The per-pupil recommendation is $2,618.

Monika Johnson-Hostler, Chair of the Wake County School Board, announced that schools would close on May 16th because so many teachers requested the day off to go to a protest in Raleigh.

School board leaders submitted their request for the 14 percent increase in early May, calling the request a "subsistence budget." Commissioners have given the school system more than $100 million in additional funding since 2014, resulting in annual property tax increases.

“I believe it’s a budget that just begins the baby step towards the exemplary school system that we are trying to achieve," said school board member Kathy Hartenstine at an earlier meeting. "It’s not what we need. It’s just a beginning of what we need.”

Other education investments in the budget include funds to end the wait list for the county's SmartStart program, which works to improve early childhood development, and $4.6 million in new money for Wake Technical Community College, including funds to hire faculty and staff for its new Research Triangle Park campus.

The plan also includes a nearly 1-cent property tax increase — generating just short of $15 million — for the county's affordable housing plan, which was approved last fall.

The funds would be used to add 2,500 affordable homes and apartments over the next five years. It also would work toward ending veteran homelessness in Wake County by 2021.

"The proposal regarding affordable housing can be described in one word: epic," Holmes said. "Our efforts in affordable housing are unprecedented. And I am proud that this board is taking on ending veteran homelessness (and) working with our seniors to make sure that after dedicating their lives to Wake County, they can afford to live here."

Commissioners approved an affordable housing plan last year after a report found that 91,000 households — one-fourth of households in Wake County — are spending more than they can afford on housing.

"Through this budget, we can truly make a difference in the lives of our residents — especially those living on the margins," Ellis said. "It provides an opportunity for us to make real progress in our boards goal areas, particularly housing affordability, behavioral health and education."

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes said it will be a priority to find the money to pay for the newly adopted 20-year affordable housing plan.

Raleigh increased its property tax rate by 2 cents in 2016, with one penny going toward its affordable housing efforts. Raleigh City Council adopted a goal of adding 5,700 affordable housing apartments and homes over the next decade.

A public hearing for the proposed budget is set for 2 p.m. May 21 at the Wake County Justice Center and 7 p.m. May 21 at the Wake County Commons Building.

The county manager's recommended budget comes just a day after two incumbents failed to secure their party's nomination and their chance to be on the ballot this fall.

Democratic Commissioners Erv Portman and John Burns were beat out by former school board member Susan Evans and political newcomer Vickie Adamson during Tuesday's primary. School funding, and whether the incumbents had supported the Wake County schools enough, was a main focus of the primary.

The full budget can be found online at www.wakegov.com/budget

Anna Johnson; 919-829-4807; @anna_m_johnson

History, suburban sprawl and new thinking about land use have created controversy in the Wake County town. Townhomes opponent Julie Ellis talks about the development that will be next to her home of nearly 30 years.

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