Local Politics

Raleigh bond proposals generate backlash

Posted October 10, 2011 12:16 p.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2011 6:05 p.m. EDT

— Opponents of two bond issues on Tuesday's ballot in Raleigh rallied Monday in a drive to defeat the proposals, which they say city residents cannot afford.

Raleigh voters will be asked to approve or deny issuing $40 million in bonds to pay for transportation projects like street paving, sidewalk repairs and transit upgrades and another $16 million to build and renovate affordable housing in the city.

Proponents of the bond issues say the things they would pay for are key to Raleigh's recent recognition by Businessweek as the No. 1 place to live in America.

"The city of Raleigh was chosen as one of the best places to live for a reason – we continue to invest incrementally in our infrastructure, which is exactly what these bonds are doing," bond supporter Sig Hutchinson said.

Meanwhile, some groups met outside City Hall to organize opposition to the bonds.

"A lot of these items (in the bonds) are luxury items that we don't have to have right now," said Dallas Woodhouse, state president of Americans for Prosperity. "We can simply delay these things to a time when tax revenues can pay for them without a tax increase."

If both bond issues are approved, they would add $17 a year in property taxes for a median-priced $188,000 home.

"As we pay more taxes, the prices of my goods are going to have to go up," said Marc Scruggs, who owns a business in Raleigh. "That hurts me in competition with the big guys. So, I'm against this because of the tax increase."

Although Raleigh already has about $1.4 billion of debt on its books, City Manager Russell Allen said that is low or about average when compared with other cities of similar size.

About $15 million of the transportation bond will pay for street paving and other road projects, while $12 million will go toward sidewalks. Upgrades to the transit station at Moore Square will account for $3.5 million of the bonds, $3 million will be set aside for the development of a planned Union Station west of downtown to serve as a regional transportation hub and about $6 million will pay for greenways and bicycle lanes.

Controversy drives early voting

The bonds, mayoral races in Raleigh and Cary and five bitterly contested races on the Wake County Board of Elections have ratcheted up interest in the off-year election.

Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said the turnout for early voting this year was triple the level of 2009. Mail-in ballots saw the biggest jump, she said, from 243 to 1,453.

The hottest races by far are the normally low-key school board contests, where control of the sharply divided board is at stake. Chairman Ron Margiotta and incumbents Keith Sutton and Kevin Hill are up for re-election in three of the five districts.

Margiotta has led a Republican-backed bloc on the board for the past two years that has overturned a number of longstanding school district policies, including how students are assigned to schools. Sutton and Hill have been among the minority on the board, which splits 5-4 on most votes.

Although the races are non-partisan, both the Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed candidates.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker's decision not to seek a record sixth term opened the mayoral race up for the first time in a decade. City Councilwoman Nancy McFarlane, real estate executive Billie Redmond and obstetrician Dr. Randall Williams are vying to succeed Meeker.

McFarlane did some last-minute campaigning Monday with Meeker, who endorsed her last week as a worthy successor. McFarlane is the only mayoral candidate with political experience, and she says her experience will help her tackle the biggest issues facing the city.

"Our anticipated growth, (we must be) planning for that," she said. "(We need to be) keeping that vibrant economy growing."

Williams spent the day working at his medical practice. He said he has the skills to get people to work together, thanks to many years volunteering at hospitals in the Middle East, and such skills will be critical as Raleigh continues to grow.

"How are you going to move (residents) around? Where are you going to get the water? What will the schools be like?" he said. "I think those will be the big issues."

Redmond, who picked up a late endorsement from several business leaders in southeast Raleigh, said her years as a business owner and as a former chairwoman of the WakeMed board of directors, qualify her to lead the city into the future.

"We already had a deficient budget this year. How are we going to manage our finances?" she said. "At the same time, how are we going to leverage the future that's ahead of us?"

In none of the three receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, the top two finishers will have a runoff election on Nov. 8.

In Cary, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht faces businesswoman Michelle Muir as he seeks a second term.