Garner: Community

Taxpayers association says Wake school bonds are unnecessary

Leaders of the Wake County Taxpayers Association charged Wednesday that the proposed $810 million school construction bond issue is not needed and will create an excessive tax burden for people.

With the outcome of the bond issue to be decided on Oct. 8, leaders of the anti-tax group said they were “laying out all their guns” Wednesday to urge the public to reject the measure. Opponents of the bond issue attacked the academic performance of the school district while charging that enrollment projections are inflated and that there are thousands of empty seats in the district.

“It seems to us the school board consistently overestimates student needs, growth projections, student achievement and their financial wants to justify new and extravagant spending,” said Ed Jones, chairman of the taxpayers association, in a video produced by the group. “And they consistently ignore the impact of ever higher and higher taxes on the people of Wake County. That must change.”

Early voting has begun on a bond measure that would pay for most of a $939.9 million construction program that includes 16 new schools, six major renovation projects, smaller repairs at 79 schools and other projects.

With the election less than two weeks away, both sides are becoming more active. On Tuesday, supporters of the bonds held a news conference at Garner High School to drum up support, saying passage would help Wake keep up with projections that show that enrollment could grow by as many as 20,000 students by 2018, to more than 170,000.

Phil Zachary, co-chairman of the Friends of Wake County, the group promoting the bond issue, said Wednesday that the growth projections are realistic.

“Things are coming back around,” Zachary said. “They’re coming here again. We’re back on a roll.”

But leaders of the taxpayers association pointed to how the projections used to justify a $970 million bond issue passed by voters in 2006 overestimated current enrollment by more than 20,000 students. Zachary says the recession led to the numbers coming in lower, but the taxpayers association notes that the estimates were off before the economy faltered.

Passage of the bond issue would result in a property tax rate increase of 5.53 cents, or $145.72 more per year on the average Wake County home, which has an assessed value of $263,500.

Bond supporters note that Wake County’s tax rate hasn’t risen in five years. But the taxpayers association points to how the bonds would result in a tax increase of more than 10 percent.

“Many families’ stretched budgets are just not able to handle one more bill of this size,” Scott de Deuga, a supporter of the taxpayers association, said at the news conference.

Instead of the bonds, the taxpayers association’s leaders said Wake can get by using $180 million in available cash and unspent bond money to pay for renovations.

Paul Fitts, a member of the board of the taxpayers association, also said the school district can look for cheaper options for seats by converting unused and underused office buildings. He cited several examples Wednesday, including part of the Dorothea Dix property that the City of Raleigh is trying to lease to turn into a park.

Zachary said people who distrust the Democratic-led school board should take comfort in how the Republican-led county board of commissioners also backs the bonds.

“People should feel some confidence that the county commissioners are all in support,” he said.