Wake County voters will decide Oct. 8 whether to foot the bill for $810 million in bonds for new and renovated schools and other educational improvements during the next several years.
County Commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting Monday to go ahead with the bond referendum which, if approved, would provide the bulk of the money for a total of nearly $940 million in projects designed to bring Wake County Schools up to current standards and prepare for the expected influx of 20,000 additional students by 2018. The county would pay the remaining $130 million in cash.
While there has been tension between the county commission and the Wake County school board, which asked for the bond referendum, the two boards are unanimous in their support of the item’s appearing on the ballot. The Republican-led commission is still waiting to learn whether it will get legislative approval to take over from the Democratic-led school board the ownership of schools, and the tasks of building and maintaining them.
Commission Chair Joe Bryan appeared satisfied with the outcome of the bond vote.
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“Let’s get this done,” he said.
Much of the work of getting it done will be undertaken by a newly formed citizens group, Friends of Wake County, whose volunteers will promote the bond to the public. Leaders of the group were among a half-dozen people who spoke in support of the bond referendum during a public hearing Tuesday. No one spoke against it.
Billie Redmond, CEO of TradeMark Properties, a property management company, told the board the county needs to work to maintain its reputation as one of the best places in the country in which to live.
“Schools play a vital role in that reputation,” she said, “and a strong public school system is a big selling point in recruiting new businesses and talent to Wake County.”
Phil Zachary, president and CEO of Curtis Media Group and another co-chair of the Friends group, said improving schools would help to counter some of the unflattering press North Carolina has received in recent weeks.
Education is a legacy left to the next generation, he said.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he told commissioners, “and the bond referendum is the right way to do it.”
If approved, the new debt would require a property tax hike of 5.53 cents per $100 valuation. In Wake County, where the average assessed home value is $263,500, each household would pay an additional $146 a year in taxes.
The construction plan includes 11 new elementary schools, three new middle schools, two new high schools, six major renovations, land acquisition for future projects, upgrades to technology and security, and equipment replacement.
Wake has the state’s largest school system, and the county has not held a school bond referendum since 2006. More than half the proceeds of the bonds to be voted on in October would build new schools.
The board of education, however, is still determining locations for nine of the 11 elementary schools to be built. The board is scheduled to name those sites later this month.
Also at the meeting, commissioners approved plans for the disbursement of money from two different capital-projects funds: the Community Capital Projects account, which gets its money from county appropriations, and the Major Facilities Capital Trust Fund, which gets its money from hotel/motel and food-and-beverage taxes.
Both funds will allow groups to compete for grants to provide up to 35 percent of the funding for projects that benefit the county as a whole. Community Capital grants will be capped at $1 million, and the projects it supports must “address countywide needs in a way that is financially sustainable and effective.”
In the past, the fund has been used to help with such efforts as the Healing Place for Women, the Tammy Lynn Center, Hospice of Wake County and the Garner Veterans Memorial.
Major Facilities grants will top out at $3 million, and those grants will go to enhance “sports, cultural, convention and arts facilities or services” in the county.