Education

This year’s planned Wake school bond vote will come later than expected

Workers use lifts to work on various areas at Oakview Elementary School in 2015 in Holly Springs. Wake County voters are expected to be asked to approved a new school bond issue in November.
Workers use lifts to work on various areas at Oakview Elementary School in 2015 in Holly Springs. Wake County voters are expected to be asked to approved a new school bond issue in November.

Wake County voters will likely have to wait until November, instead of May, to decide the fate of a bond for new school construction.

At a work session Monday, county commissioners took county staff’s advice to hold off on the bond question until the November ballot rather than during the May primaries.

It has not been decided how much money the November referendum will ask for. Some commissioners want to ask for $1.1 billion all at once, while others want to split bond funding between two referenda – one in 2018, and another in 2020.

A $1.1 billion bond would require the county to add between 3 and 3.5 cents to the property tax rate. The money would help pay for a $2.3 billion program, which includes the construction of 11 new schools and extensive renovations to older buildings.

Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers said that waiting until November, when voter turnout is generally higher than in May, would allow for more discussion.

The advantage of approving the bond in May, when North Carolina holds its primary elections, would have been that the county could approve the associated property tax increase in time for the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1.

But there’s a chance the state’s primaries might be pushed back, beyond the county’s budget deadline, as fights over voting districts continue.

Rogers also said a November vote could decrease the likelihood of bond-related voter fatigue – particularly in Raleigh, whose voters approved a $200 million transportation bond in October. She said stakeholders were “concerned that they wouldn’t be able to mobilize people for a May vote” so soon after Raleigh’s vote last fall.

Wake County voters last approved a school bond in 2013 for $810 million.

The board agreed unanimously to move forward with a November referendum, but Commissioner John Burns said he wanted to make sure the school bond didn’t crowd out the board’s other priorities.

“The message needs to be conveyed that we have other needs to fulfill,” Burns said. “The benefit of a May vote is that it opens up the November question for a non-tax-increase bond vote on things like green space and affordable housing, which we have not yet funded. Success tends to drop off the lower down the ballot you get.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan

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