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Wake Budget Passes; Emphasizes Education, Public Safety, Human Services

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Commissioners adopted a $638.1 million budget for fiscal 2002-03 Mondnay that does not increase property taxes, and emphasizes education, public safety and human services while holding the line on other County programs and services.

The budget provides an additional $10 million for public schools, funding for 11 new Sheriff's Deputies, and funding for Human Services mental health and school-related programs. Some fees will be increased, mostly in the areas of development and inspections, public safety and environmental services. Persons living in the County's Fire Tax District will pay a slightly higher fire tax.

Commissioners' Chair Linda Coleman said she was pleased with the budget process and the resulting budget that meets the County's priorities but does not raise property taxes. She noted it was a difficult year in which to prepare a budget, because of the uncertainty caused by the State's budget crisis.

The Governor's budget, which is under scrutiny by the General Assembly, does not provide cities and counties with reimbursements of inventory taxes and beer and wine taxes. Wake County would have been due $14.2 million.

"Obviously, this is a tight budget year for us, but I feel that we established the right priorities with funding for education, human services' programs, and additional Sheriff's deputies," she said. "This budget also keeps us on track with our growth and environmental initiatives and long-term planning processes that are critical to our future."

Highlights of the fiscal 2002-03 budget include:

  • The budget totals $638.1 million, a 1.9 percent increase over the fiscal 2001-02 budget.
  • Property taxes will remain unchanged at 56.4 cents per $100 of assessed value for the third consecutive year.
  • School current expense (operating) funding will increase by $10 million, to $203 million from $193 million this year. That is the amount requested by the Board of Education. Debt service on the bonds issued to pay for new school construction and renovations is increasing by $14 million in the proposed budget, to $82.7 million.
  • The Board added 11 new Sheriff's deputy positions, which is about half of what the Sheriff had requested as part of a plan to add 23 deputies per year for four years. The Board has funded three years of that plan, adding 69 deputies since 1998. This will bring the total added to 80.
  • Spending on County departments was cut by $$4.07 million.
  • The Board added staff for Human Services programs, including the Partnership for Educational Success, mental health programs and at the new Eastern Regional Center, a facility that will open in Zebulon in the fall to provide human service programs and other County services to residents in the eastern part of the County.
  • $1 million was set aside for a future Human Services facility, if one is needed for mental health programs that are being reduced or cut by State government. No plans have been developed for such a facility; the Board is creating this reserve in case a facility is needed in the future.
  • Some fees will increase, mostly in the areas of development and inspections, public safety and environmental services, in order to recover the cost of providing the service. Examples are higher fees for EMS special event coverage and development-related inspections. Two new fees are proposed, for traffic impact analysis review and for certain on-site wastewater reviews.
  • The 911 telephone surcharge will increase to 25 cents per month from 12 cents in order to cover the cost that BellSouth charges the County for providing emergency 911 access and maintaining the lines. This will add $1.56 to a person's bill over the year.
  • Persons living in the Fire Tax District areas of the County will pay one cent more on their tax bill, for a total tax rate of 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Of this, 7 1/2 cents will be dedicated to operating costs and 2 1/2 cents to capital. The increase will cover operational costs for all stations, staff and equipment for the new Willow Springs Fire Station, and other costs, such as station safety improvements. The average assessed value of houses in the unincorporated area is $178,230; the one-cent increase would mean another $18 per year in fire taxes on a house with that value.
  • The budget funds the mandated $2.2 million increase in the County's Medicaid match in Human Services.
  • The budget continues the pay-for-performance system for employees, providing for average increases of 2.5 percent. This is not an across-the-board increase for all employees, but a system that rewards employees based on individual performance and productivity.
  • To balance the budget in a year with tight budget constraints and no tax increase, the County is using more than $21 million from the Capital Fund's reserve account and $6.4 million that was initially intended to finance the County's long-term capital improvement plan.

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