Local News

Proposed Wake budget includes tax increase

Posted May 19, 2008 2:35 p.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2008 9:41 p.m. EDT

— Wake County officials are considering raising the property tax rate by 2.5 cents for the coming year, four months after rolling back the rate to compensate for a property revaluation.

The proposed $983.4 million budget for 2008-09 represents a spending increase of $54.3 million, or 5.8 percent, over the current budget. The budget gives Wake County schools an extra $18.5 million, which is about one-third of the increase the school board requested from the county.

The tax increase would bring the county tax rate to 53.4 cents per $100 of valuation and would add $50 to the annual tax bill of a $200,000 house.

Last year's tax rate was 67.8 cents per $100 of valuation, but the Board of Commissioners rolled it back after a countywide property revaluation, preventing the county from collecting a windfall from higher values on homes, land and other real estate.

Property values jumped an average of 43 percent in the revaluation, the first in Wake County since 2000.

The higher values increased the county's tax base from $82.2 billion to $115.8 billion, according to county officials. That would have allowed officials to roll the tax rate back to 50.9 cents and collect the same amount of revenue as last year. County commissioners voted in January to make that their goal.

County Manager David Cooke said that wouldn't have provided enough money to pay the debt service on bonds approved last fall for expansions at Wake Technical Community College and county libraries and to purchase land for open space; to fund operations at new schools; and to increase spending on law enforcement and public safety.

"Our local economy has slowed. This is evident in development-related revenues and sales taxes," Cooke said.

School district administrators recently asked the county for an extra $54 million for next year to fund efforts like gang prevention and literacy programs. The district has proposed a $1.42 billion budget for 2008-09.

The district had requested a $35 million increase from the county in March, saying that growth in the tax base would likely pay for about half of that amount.

"I hope they reconsider this proposal," school board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said of the county budget. "Anything less (than what the district requested) would put us in a pretty bad situation."

The budget proposal also would provide the Wake County Sheriff's Office with an extra $2.8 million to pay for a unit to handle suspected illegal immigrants charged with crimes, extra deputies to track offenders and support the court system and two more latent-print examiners at the City-County Bureau of Identification.

"Will we get everything? Absolutely not, but we try not to ask for that extravagance," Sheriff Donnie Harrison said. "(We ask) that we can operate and make the county safe. That's what we're there for."

The budget also would boost spending to hire 28 firefighters in various fire districts and to add three ambulances to assist during peak times for emergency calls.

The Board of Commissioners will hold two June 2 public hearings on the proposal – at the courthouse at 2 p.m. and at the county government offices at 7 p.m. – before hashing out a final budget on June 9 and approving it June 16.