Morrisville, N.C. — Construction and renovations needs at Wake County schools likely exceed the $1 billion that officials have discussed for a possible bond this fall, Joe Bryan, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said Friday.
The Board of Commissioners held its annual retreat Friday with mayors from 12 area cities and towns to discuss their needs, from transit to libraries. Bryan said that keeping up with the growing public school enrollment is the county's top priority.
"It’s critical for us to build schools and have good education," he said. "We have to prioritize, and there's only a limited amount of money we can ask for from our hard-working citizens."
The Wake County Public School System needs up to 16 new elementary schools, five middle schools and six high schools, and there are many renovation needs at existing schools. Those capital needs might require the county issuing up to $2 billion in bonds, Bryan said.
"We have maybe the ability to do perhaps $600 million relatively shortly, with probably a 4 cent tax (rate) increase," he said.
By 2018, as the county pays off previous bonds, he said, another $800 million or so in school construction bonds could be sold.
"I think the public is going to recognize that we need to make more of an investment in building classrooms for the students that we have here, as well as renovating and maintaining the assets that are already built," he said.
A half-cent increase to the sales tax rate also could be on the horizon. Some local leaders are urging commissioners to put the tax proposal on the ballot to generate money for mass transit projects.
"We’re really trying to make sure we have a comprehensive plan dealing with transportation," Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said. "Our whole corridor plans and our whole development plans depend on different methods and different options for transit other than cars."
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane noted that Durham and Orange counties have already approved a half-cent transit tax, and Wake County needs to follow suit for the sake of regional transportation planning.
"We are really at the perfect place to put in that transportation infrastructure that will allow us to grow in a way that people have choices," McFarlane said.
County commissioners said they will decide in a few months how large a school bond will appear on the fall ballot and if a transit tax will be included as well.
"I'm not sure it's up to Wake County taxpayers to fund the city of Raleigh's transit plan," Commissioner Paul Coble said. "I guarantee you, most people in the community don't know what they're supporting or what it's going to cost them."