by Burwell Stark, correspondent
RALEIGH — Wake County commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a referendum that would raise Wake County property taxes beginning in 2015 during it’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday.
The increase will be used to raise the monies necessary to fund a proposed $810 million general obligation school bond.
If approved, property taxes will increase 5.53 cents per $100 valuation. The average home value in Wake County is $263,500 which translates to an additional $146 in new taxes.
Presented to the commissioners by Wake County Debt and Capital Manager Nicole Kreiser, the proposed bond is part of an overall $939.9 million program designed to build 16 new schools, fully fund the renovation of six schools, begin the renovation of three schools and fund critical support items, such as life-cycle equipment replacement, update technology and security and acquire new land for future building projects.
The remaining $129.9 million will be appropriated in future fiscal years.
The general obligation bonds proposal originated during a Feb. 21 joint session of the Wake County Commissioners and the Board of Education, a meeting that some editorials described as “destructive” and a “playground fight.”
According to Wake County Commission Chairman Joe Bryan, the highest priority at that time was the bond issue.
In June, the Board of Education formally requested commissioners approve a referendum to put the bond issue before the voters of Wake County. The commissioners voted in favor of the referendum during its first reading on June 1.
The proposed bond comes on the heels of a 2006 $970 million school construction bond, a bond that was fiercely debated and not easily passed. The 2006 bond package was intended to provide for the construction of 17 new schools between 2008 and 2011, afford “major” renovation for 13 existing schools and cover about 100 other smaller projects.
Bond proponents then argued for its passing due to the “unprecedented growth” of the Wake County Public School System, which averaged an annual growth rate of 5.04 percent per year from 2003-07.
However, since 2008, WCPSS has maintained an average annual growth rate of 2.22 percent.
Show me the money
According to projected enrollment modeling by the board of education, there will be more than 180,000 students in the system by 2021. The majority of those students, 50 percent, will be in elementary school. Therefore, the proposed new school construction would be: 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. Additionally, all six schools receiving fully funded renovations would be elementary schools.
The fiscal allocation would be $528.3 million for new construction, $243.9 million for renovations and $167.8 million for the critical support projects.
In order to maintain Wake County’s AAA bond rating, a seven year capital repayment plan was developed. The debt-to-cash funding ration does not exceed 80 percent after 2016, and the debt principal repayment schedule must be 60-70 percent within 10 years.
As a result, Wake County would rank third highest in projected overall debt per capita among surrounding AAA rated counties and would rank second highest in overall debt to assessed value among those same counties.
Preaching to the choir
After Krieser’s presentation, Bryan opened the public hearing on the bond proposal. The first to speak were the three co-chairs of the Friends of Wake County Bond Campaign Committee, Billie Redmond, the Rev. Marion Robinson and Phil Zachary. All three spoke in favor of the bond.
Redmond is CEO of TradeMark Commercial Properties, a firm that was hired by WCPSS in 2007 to help the school system find available property for construction and recommended purchasing a controversial and over-priced property in Apex. She spoke in favor of the bond claiming the county’s population growth would exceed 1 million “within the next two years.”
Robinson, pastor of St. Matthew’s AME Zion Church in Raleigh, spoke of the bond’s ability to give students in Wake County “stronger schools” which would result in “outstanding, successful students.”
Zachary, president of Curtis Media Group, spoke to the “heart of the issue” and said that the bond would be the current generation’s commitment to the legacy of their children.
Additional speakers included, Wake County Board of Education Chairman Keith Sutton, Wake County Voters Education Coalition Vice-Chairman Charles Rodman and two private citizens. All spoke in favor of the bond.
No one spoke against the bond during the public hearing.
After closing the public hearing, Commissioner Betty Lou Ward made the motion to adopt the resolution for the bond referendum. The motion was quickly seconded.
Commissioner Tony Gurley then asked if the wording on the ballot had to contain the amount of the proposed tax increase. County Manager David Cooke replied the law does not require the amount of the tax increase be included in the ballot’s wording.
Gurley followed by stating that the commission was not required to even mention a tax increase at all, but he believed they should be above board with the public.
The board then voted unanimously to pass the bond referendum.
The bond referendum will appear on the ballot in Wake County Oct. 8, with early voting available Aug. 19.
The results will be published Oct. 25.