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Wake Commission Approves $35M to Ease Overcrowding in Jail, Schools

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RALEIGH — Our schools and our safety are two of our primary concerns. In Wake County, more money will be spent on both.

County commissioners agreed with the sheriff and the school board and passed a plan Tuesday to spend a total of $35 million -- money they do not even have yet.

County commissioners have been saying for months they have more needs than they can possibly fund. Still, they approved the funding for jails and schools with only $1 million in the bank.

In Wake County jails, cellblocks designed for 24 inmates hold twice that many. Some inmates sleep on the floor.

In Wake County schools, students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms and housed in rundown buildings.

Both the sheriff and the school board want millions of dollars from the county commission.

"We're in a financial bind trying to finance all the things, all the needs that the county has, and it won't be an easy call," says council member Vernon Malone.

Consultants say Wake County needs another 500 jail beds right away at a cost of $20 million. Commissioners voted unanimously to allot $1.4 million to get started.

"The $1.4 million goes to developing a master plan for a long-term detention facility. It also goes for hiring an architect to design the first phase of that, which would house approximately 536 inmates," says Phillip Stout, Wake County facilities director.

The needs of the school system are much more expensive: $34 million to build a new high school and renovate four elementary schools. Again, commissioners approved the request unanimously.

But the money will come out of next year's budget and commissioners did not have to explain where they will find it.

"What this will allow us to do is to move ahead with the issue and some notices of awards for the West Lake-Optimist High School project ... It will also allow us to start a commitment of design selection and procurement for Hunter, Fuller, Enloe and Wake Forest elementary schools," says Mike Burris, Wake County Schools program consultant.

The money for the jail master plan will come out of the budget for the 911 emergency center, which commissioners have shelved. The $34 million for the schools will come out of next year's budget, which means commissioners have until May to find the money.

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Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
David Renner, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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