Local Politics

Tax increase part of proposed $1.2B Wake budget

Posted May 16, 2016 3:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 17, 2016 1:55 p.m. EDT

— Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann on Monday proposed a $1.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including a tax increase.

The proposed 1.35-cent addition to the county's property tax rate – after the rate is rolled back as part of the countywide property revaluation – would add $20.25 to the annual tax bill on a $150,000 home.

"We've got to keep up with the growth rate we're experiencing in the county," Hartmann told the Board of Commissioners.

Wake County trails only the Austin, Texas, area nationally in terms of population growth in recent years, with more than 60 people added each day, he said.

Schools, as usual, account for the bulk of the county budget. Hartmann proposed providing an extra $23.9 million to the Wake County Public School System, for a total of $409.9 million.

The school board recently requested an additional $35.7 million for the coming school year, but Hartmann said the county couldn't meet that request after providing an extra $44.6 million – the largest increase in school funding in Wake County history – last year.

He noted that last year's increase and what he has proposed for 2016-17 would combine for a 20 percent increase in the county's annual support to public schools.

"We think we hit a good spot for the school system’s budget," Hartmann said. "At the end, I have to be sensitive on the tax rates on the public, and we’ve had tax increases the last two years."

School board Chairman Tom Benton said he remains optimistic about getting needed funding included in the county budget.

"We understand the county has a lot of things they have to fund. We look forward to having a discussion about what can be done to boost our funding. We didn’t put fluff in our budget," Benton said. "We may also have to have discussions on what programs we may have to discontinue."

Other increases in the proposed budget would allow Wake Technical Community College to open three buildings at its various campuses and hire technology staff; let county libraries to purchase about 200,000 books; add staff to the detention center and create a medical detox unit there; and expand mental health programs.

"If we want to sacrifice our quality of life, we can approach budgets much differently, but I don't think that's where our community really wants to be," Hartmann said. "We want our quality of life, taking care of the people we need to take care of – all citizens – and do so in a responsible manner."

He also called for a separate tax increase for Wake County's fire district, which covers unincorporated areas in the county and the town of Wendell. Many of the departments within the fire district cannot afford to pay firefighters enough to attract and retain personnel, he said.

The Board of Commissioners will hold two public hearings on the budget proposal on June 6: at 2 p.m. at the Wake County Justice Center downtown and at 7 p.m. at the county offices on Carya Drive. The board will then make any adjustments to the budget during a June 13 work session before voting on the spending plan on June 20.