Politics & Government

Wake County voters pass $1.1 billion in school construction and park bonds

Workers use lifts to work on various areas at Oakview Elementary School in Holly Springs in this 2015 file photo. Wake County voters will decide on a $548 million school construction bond referendum on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot.
Workers use lifts to work on various areas at Oakview Elementary School in Holly Springs in this 2015 file photo. Wake County voters will decide on a $548 million school construction bond referendum on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Wake County voters overwhelmingly gave their blessing Tuesday to borrowing more than $1 billion in bonds to pay for school construction projects and new parks, based on complete but unofficial election results.

Around two-thirds of voters (66.7 percent) backed a referendum to borrow $548 million for Wake County school system construction projects, with all 204 precincts reporting. Those returns also showed 65 percent backing borrowing $349.1 million for Wake Technical Community College projects and 68 percent supporting borrowing $120 million for parks, open space and recreation construction.

“By passing the bond we were asking voters to think of the cheapest way to pay for our schools,” Wake school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said Tuesday evening. “That’s the success of this campaign. Both the Wake Commissioners and the school board went into this together.”

Approval of all three bonds will raise the county’s property tax rate by 3.8 cents. That would be an increase of $114 on the property tax bill of a $300,000 home in Wake County.

“It’s clear that our community values investments in our public schools, Wake Tech and our parks, greenways and open space,” said Wake County Commissioner Chair Jessica Holmes. “Wake County residents want to maintain our high quality of life — this is why we are experiencing such high growth. Passage of these bonds will continue to keep us in the running for economic development opportunities as more people and companies want to relocate here.”

Opponents of the three bonds had argued that the tax increase was too much to ask for after five consecutive years of property tax increases. But supporters argued that bonds were the cheapest way to pay for the community’s needs based on the county’s AAA credit rating, which will reduce the interest rate for borrowing the money.

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The Wake County school bond would help pay for seven new schools, 11 major renovations and other projects, such as school security upgrades and new computers. Voters could be asked to decide on another school bond referendum as soon as 2020 since county leaders opted to go with two smaller referenda rather than one large one this year.

The Wake school system tweeted its thanks to voters on behalf of families in the district.

The Wake Tech bond would cover the construction costs of several new buildings, including a health science building, a public safety simulation building, an auto and collision repair facility and a 1,200-space parking garage for its Research Triangle Park campus. The bond would also include several campus-wide projects like a mass notification system, elevator and HVAC repairs and accessibility upgrades.

The parks bond would go toward acquiring 1,800 acres for future parks and open space, building 15 miles of greenways and renovating existing parks. Those renovations could range from small projects like adding new benches to larger projects like adding a nature or education center. New parks like the Lake Myra Park and Kellam-Wyatt Farm Preserve would also be funded under the $120 million bond.

Most of the focus had been placed on the school bond, with at least $199,000 raised by Friends of Wake County, the business-backed group formed to promote passage. Supporters said passing the bonds will provide better learning environments for students and help to recruit and retain the best teachers.

Against the Bonds raised $13,170, with nearly all of the group’s money coming from the Wake County Taxpayers Association. There was also opposition to the school bond from some parents in Morrisville who are upset that the school system plans to open a new elementary school in town next year on a year-round calendar instead of on a traditional calendar.

One of the issues raised during the campaign is how the majority of the bond money would go toward renovations, which in some cases would mean demolishing existing buildings and building a brand new school on the site.

Critics questioned how much was being spent on renovations as opposed to building new schools to keep up with growth. Supporters said older schools need to be brought to modern standards to provide equity.

Opponents of the bonds acknowledged it would be difficult to defeat them considering how Wake County is becoming increasingly Democratic and liberal, like North Carolina’s other urban counties.

Holly Springs road bonds

Road-improvement projects in Holly Springs also got the green light as 59.9 percent of voters supported a transportation bond issue.

The $40 million bond referendum, which will pay for road, sidewalk and bike-lane projects, garnered nearly 60 percent of the votes in favor, while 40 percent were against it.

The town will spend about $16 million on projects not likely to receive state or federal transportation dollars.

Most of the money — about $24 million — will be used for larger, costlier projects on state-maintained roads inside the town limits.

The largest group of projects will be around the Interstate 540 interchange. When it is built, it will impact Sunset Lake Road and Holly Springs Road. Improvements there will help the town prepare for the influx of vehicles to that area.

Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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