Wake boards agree: 'Wish list' schools bond too burdensome for taxpayers
Posted March 21, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — If the Wake County Board of Education got everything on their "wish list" $2.2 billion bond, it would mean a nearly 15 cent hike per $100 of assessed property value for county residents, or about $300 more per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
County commission Chairman Joe Bryan said those figures are a "reality check" and that such a bond is not going to happen.
"I think a double-digit tax increase is unrealistic," he said. "Something moderate in the 3 to 6 cent range, whatever that would support, I would be comfortable there."
In a meeting with the commission Thursday morning, school board members emphasized that they're not advocating putting a $2.2 billion bond on the ballot, but that their needs are quickly outgrowing their current funding. About 3,000 new students enter the school system each year.
"The needs are huge. We have not put together a structure that takes care of the needs that we have," said Jim Martin. "But just because I have the need doesn't mean we can take care of it in one shot."
County Manager David Cooke said a 15-cent tax 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.
Bryan advised the school board to look at needs versus wants to trim their bond proposal.
"We will be coming back with scenarios and scrutinizing the variables," Bryan said. "It will be a bond issue that's significantly less than $2.2 billion."
The school board said it would take about $2.2 billion over the next three years to keep up with growth. To support increasing enrollment and ease capacity issues, the district would need to build 32 new schools and renovate many existing ones.
Technology needs and security upgrades also rank high among the school system's priorities.
"Many of the schools are old and decrepit, and furniture is cracked," said county commissioner Betty Lou Ward. "We need to look at all of that to put together a program that will work today and in the future."
Bryan has said the schools bond is the commission's 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.
Both boards agree – no matter what bond amount appears on the ballot in October, there's no short-term fix for growing needs in the state's largest school system.
"Not only are we going to look at this bond issue, but we're going to be looking at future bond issues every three to four years of a significant amount," Bryan said.
Thursday's meeting was a rare moment of consensus between the two boards. Tension has been mounting in recent months after commissioners asked the General Assembly to transfer control of schools buildings and land from the school board to the commission.
The two sides say they're committed to working together to get a bond passed, but others say the in-fighting is damaging to the community.