The vote to approve a modest tax hike in the new Wake County budget should have been unanimous. After years of Republican rule during which population growth and action on a transit tax and other needs were neglected, the new, all-Democratic board members needed to step up together for the property tax increase of 3.65 cents per $100 valuation, which was ultimately approved. It will amount to an increase of less than $100 on a house worth the county average of $265,000.
Alas, Commissioners James West and Caroline Sullivan were the two votes against the budget tax hike, with West simply appearing nervous about the size of the increase and Sullivan saying she favored a plan to increase school funding over the next several years.
Perhaps they were concerned that Republican critics would do exactly what former commissioners’ board chairman Phil Matthews did, which was to imply political payback by saying the new board members were “going to have a voting record after today.” But if Matthews and three other former GOP board members were in the right in their hold-the-line attitude, why were they thunderously driven off the board by four Democrats in the last election?
The increase is needed to meet a school board request for additional money to boost teacher pay, to help early education programs and others for disadvantaged youngsters and to pay better wages to school workers other than teachers. The county is, after all, adding 3,000 students a year, and local districts aren’t getting much help from Republicans in the state legislature.
Helping public schools, to which the vast majority of families send their children, is hardly money wasted.
And let us not forget that Wake’s new tax rate, roughly 61 cents per $100 valuation, remains substantially lower than two other large, urban counties. Mecklenburg (Charlotte) is at 81.57 cents and Guilford is at 77 cents.
Wake County residents still are going to get a bargain, and the state’s largest public school system is going to get a needed infusion of resources.