Raleigh, N.C. — Looking for middle ground in a debate that will have an impact on every Wake County taxpayer, the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education agreed Thursday to pursue a school construction bond in the ballpark of $911 million.
If approved, a bond of that amount would cost the average Wake County homeowner an extra $75 to $150 per year in property taxes but would allow the school system to build as many as six new elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools and renovate seven more to bring them up to date.
School board members will meet next week to determine exactly what projects a bond would fund and will present that package to the commissioners in May.
A month ago, the boards agreed that a "wish list" $2.2 billion bond – that would require a nearly 15-cent hike per $100 of assessed property value for county residents – was simply too burdensome on taxpayers.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan said in March that the school board would have to look at needs versus wants to trim its bond proposal.
The boards agreed Thursday that an estimated 5-cent increase to the tax rate would be the more comfortable figure for Wake County residents.
County Manager David Cooke said a 15-cent increase would add $375 a year to the tax bill for a $250,000 house, which is the average home cost for Wake County. A 3- to 6-cent increase would add $75 to $150 to the property tax on the same home.
School board members have been adamant in previous meetings about the growing needs of an expanding school system and say that any sized bond will barely help the school system keep up with growth.
The student population increases at about a rate of 2.5 to 3 percent, or approximately 3,000 new students, each school year, and they've previously said that it needs 25 new schools over the next 10 years.
Members say they also anticipate another school bond with little or no tax increase in 2016.
"The needs are huge. We have not put together a structure that takes care of the needs that we have," Board of Education member Jim Martin said in March. "But just because I have the need doesn't mean we can take care of it in one shot."
The boards touched on those needs Thursday, discussing the pros and cons of renovating old schools as opposed to building new ones.
Bryan has said the schools bond is the commissioners' top priority and that he hopes to have a referendum on the fall ballot. Some school board members, however, have advised waiting until 2014.
They'll have to agree on a bond amount by June in order to prepare for a fall vote.