Local News

County Boosts Wake School Budget by $6 Million

Posted June 18, 2007 7:55 a.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2007 6:54 p.m. EDT

— In a 4-3 vote Monday, the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved a tax increase that will give the county school system $6 million more for its 2007-2008 budget than the county manager had recommended, but $5 million less than school officials had said they needed.

The result, commissioners said, will be an increase of 0.8 cents in the county property tax rate, bringing it to 67.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. An increase of 3.6 cents was already coming.

The Wake County Public Schools System had sought $305 million, while County Manager David Cooke had suggested giving the school system $294 million. The commissioners voted for $300 million.

Commissioners Lindy Brown, Joe Bryan, Betty Lou Ward and Harold Webb voted for the $300 million. Chairman Tony Gurley and commissioners Paul Coble and Kenn Gardner voted against it.

The vote was a detour from the commissioners' usual party-line division.

Republican Joe Bryan voted with the commission's three Democrats to add the $6 million.

"I voted how I felt was the right thing to do," Bryan said.

The sole speaker during the public comment period, Marguerite Creek, took the school board to task. She asked the commissioners "to demand accountability. They have a blatant disregard for the law."

Gurley agreed.

"If we're going to be expected to provide funding for the school system, we need to have more control over how that money is spent," the chairman said.

One the other side, schools supporter Virginia Parker said after the vote, "I really do think it's a great gesture on behalf of the county commissioners to give the extra six million."

Technically, the commissioners voted on a motion that Brown made for the tax increase, not for the school allocation itself. County budget technicians expect the 0.8-cent increase to generate $6.3 million, and commissioners said they would put the added $300,000 into savings while allotting the $6 million to the schools.

Commissioners had said previously that they did not want to raise taxes to pay for schools.

Debt service on the bond issue already was going to increase the taxes on a $200,000 home by $72 even if the district's operating budget had stayed the same as the current year. The money added Monday will make that increase $88.

"We have increased property taxes 10 percent in the last two years. That is a significant increase, and I think we're getting close to reaching the limit that taxpayers are willing to pay," Gurley said last month.

Cooke had said the county could provide the $294 million to the district in the coming year without raising taxes.

The Board of Education had said that about $16.5 million of the funding increase it asked from the current year was to cover costs associated with growth.

"We have worked very hard to give them a bare-bones budget, and the increase is what we need," school board Chairwoman Patti Head said when the two boards last discussed the budget.

The school board may begin as early as Tuesday to decide what it will do now that it knows how much county funding it will get.