North Raleigh News

Wake Forest ramps up education campaign for November bond referendum

Town officials will ramp up a public education campaign in the coming months to prepare voters for a $25 million bond referendum this fall.

The money raised by issuing bonds would help pay for big-ticket items such as a community center at Joyner Park, the widening of Ligon Mill Road and construction of the Smith and Sanford Creek greenway.

Voters will consider three questions on the November ballot: $6.3 million for streets and sidewalks, $14.2 million for parks and recreation and $4.6 million for greenways.

By using matching grants, Wake Forest expects to leverage an additional $30 million worth of funding, for a total of $55 million in new or improved roads, trails and amenities.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, some of the projects on the list likely would be postponed or eliminated because the town doesn’t have the capital needed for so many expensive projects at once.

“This is a way to take it to the voters and let them decide,” said Aileen Staples, finance director for Wake Forest.

Staff members and elected officials will be available to attend community meetings and events to explain the referendum in the lead-up to the vote, although they are prohibited from advocating for or against it.

Information also will be available through the town’s website and newsletters, mailed brochures and an online video segment.

The town has identified specific projects that compose the $25 million total for the referendum, but the list isn’t a guarantee.

A future board could opt to rearrange the items, or financial changes could affect the timing or scope of projects.

“This is a fluid thing,” said Town Manager Mark Williams. “These projects may change over time.”

If the town were to release all of the bonds and begin all of the projects at once, residents’ property taxes could increase by as much as 2 cents for every $100 of assessed value – a result officials say is a worst-case scenario.

Instead, they expect to stagger the projects and the bond debt over seven years, potentially heading off any tax increase because of revenue growth during that time period.

The most recent Wake Forest bond referendum took place in 2005, and no tax increase was needed to pay back the debt from the bonds.

Voters approved $7 million in parks and recreation bonds and $9.5 million in street and sidewalk bonds, by majorities of 77 percent and 84 percent, respectively. The vote was held in May, and voter turnout was very low, at 3.5 percent.

Staples said the hope is that by pairing the referendum with state and federal midterm elections, more voters will participate this year.

The town settled on an amount of $25 million based in part on an outside analysis of the level of debt the town can afford to take on.