Local Politics

New Wake commissioners plan to maintain bloc

Posted November 5, 2014 5:41 p.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2014 6:46 p.m. EST

— After campaigning as a bloc, the four Democrats who defeated incumbent Republicans in Tuesday's election said Wednesday that they plan to continue working as a unit when they join the Wake County Board of Commissioners next month.

Democrats Sig Hutchinson, Matt Calabria, Jessica Holmes and John Burns defeated commissioners Joe Bryan, Phil Matthews, Rich Gianni and Paul Coble, respectively, putting all seven seats in the hands of a single party for the first time in recent memory.

Hutchinson and Calabria said Wednesday that their first order of business is to sit down with the Wake County Board of Education. Relations between the two boards have been frosty in recent years as they bickered over education spending and control of school construction and maintenance.

"(We want to) really delve into the question of how can we work better to help you do your job and remove barriers to your success," Hutchinson said.

Calabria said the discussion would include teacher pay and adequate school facilities.

"We've heard so many complaints from parents and people in general," he said.

Hutchinson said it's too early to say whether a higher commitment to area schools by the county would require a tax increase.

"That means working with the school board to answer that question," he said.

Public transportation is another top priority for the incoming commissioners, including a new transit hub in downtown Raleigh.

"We saw a 2007 plan basically frozen in time, and only recently has it been dug out and have we started to work on refreshing that," Calabria said.

Durham and Orange counties have moved forward on transit – each implemented a half-cent sales tax to fund projects – but the issue has been a non-starter for the Republican majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners in recent years. The Democrats pledged the discussion of mass transit will be revived in Wake County.

Hutchinson said he wants to move forward with a half-cent sales tax for transit in the county, noting that it would double the county's bus capacity in the next 18 months. The other six members of new board also support the plan, he said.

"That's what we need to move forward on. We need to give our citizens a voice and a vote on their transportation future," he said.