This election, Wake County voters aren’t just getting a ballot. They’re also getting a bill.
Actually, it’s three bills in the form of three proposed bonds. One is for public schools, another for Wake Tech and a third for park projects and open space purchases. They add up to a hefty $1 billion.
The cumulative price may give some taxpayers pause. It shouldn’t. For these bonds represent sound investments that are needed to maintain and develop the three elements have made Wake County an excellent place to live, raise a family and do business: good public schools, a well-trained workforce, and a wealth of parks and preserved natural environments.
Those elements are magnetic. The quality of life in Wake County is attracting more than 60 new residents a day. If Wake is to keep what it has, it will have to keep up. The three bonds will increase property taxes, but Wake’s property tax rate will still be among the lowest of North Carolina’s urban counties.
Meanwhile, if voters say no, the needs won’t go away. A lack of investment will diminish and eventually endanger what makes Wake County appealing to residents and newcomers alike.
Here’s a look at the borrowing voters are being asked to approve.
• $548 million for the Wake County Public School System construction over the next two years. Property tax impact: $69 a year on a $300,000 home.
Wake’s public school population is growing slower, but the state’s largest school system is still growing and existing schools need improvements. This capital investment will pay for seven new schools, including a new high school in southwest Wake County, and 11 major renovations. The new and renovated schools will have a security design that will limit access from the outside to a sealed vestibule area containing the school office.
• $349 million for Wake Technical Community College construction for the next four years. Property tax impact: $34.50 a year on a $300,000 home.
Most of this funding will go toward a new Research Triangle Park campus and new buildings to train health care workers, auto mechanics and collision repair workers and public safety officers.
• $120 million for parks, open space and greenways for the next six years. Property tax impact: $10.50 a year on a $300,000 home.
Over the years, Wake commissioners have used bonds to purchase more than 7,000 acres of open space, largely to protect the Falls Lake watershed and the quality of the lake’s drinking water. This funding will continue those purchases.
The bond will also support improvement in parks for a growing population. The funding will have have a greater impact when it is matched by municipal funds for local projects. Wake County commissioner Sig Hutchinson said the the $120 million county bond could lead to $200 million to $250 million in overall spending on parks.
An important part of this bond will be more funds for the expansion of the county’s 200-mile greenway system, a network of trails Hutchinson said could eventually expand to 400 miles. Now the system is so large and interconnected it offers an alternative transportation system for recreational cyclists and bike commuters. That alternative will have increasing value as the county grows more urbanized and street traffic become more congested.
Voters may be wary of the total costs of these bonds, but their tax impact is modest and the county’s property tax rate is still a bargain for what Wake County provides in education, recreation and natural preserves.
Say yes to all three.