Local Politics

Wake budget gives more to schools, takes more from taxpayers

Posted June 4, 2018 2:07 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:20 a.m. EDT

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners passed a $1.32 billion budget Monday evening that includes more money for schools and a greater-than-anticipated tax hike to pay for it.

Commissioners were making changes on the fly at their meeting before the budget vote after leaders of the Wake County Public School System came to them Monday to request an additional $10 million to pay for raises promised to teachers by the state.

Only Commissioner Sig Hutchinson voted against the budget. Six others on the board voted in favor.

Of his vote to hold the line, Hutchinson said, "They are getting some extra money. This is the highest per-pupil spending, including inflation, in the history of the county."

Almost 60 percent of the county budget goes towards the Wake County Public School System and Wake Tech, with about half of the costs dedicated to paying off the bonds used to build new schools. For fiscal 2018-19, the school board had asked for $500 million to meet those obligations, a year-over-year increase of $69 million.

The budget that passed included $45 million for schools after Commissioner Matt Calabria advocated to bridge the gap.

School funding has been a contentious issue at the state and county level for months, and it apparently cost two county commissioners their seats.

District 7 Commissioner John Burns and District 4 Commissioner Erv Portman lost primary challenges in last month in an election where school funding was the key issue.

The additional money will require an even higher tax increase than that sought by Wake County Manager David Ellis in his budget proposal. Ellis planned to ask property owners for an additional 2.9 cents per $100 of valuation, or about an additional $58 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

Ellis said a tax hike is necessary because county growth at the current rate would produce only an extra $24 million next year, which wouldn't come close to covering the county's needs.

The budget that passed boosted property taxes by 3.94 cents per $100, to 64.4 cents per $100 or an annual tax bill of $1,288 for the owner of a $200,000 home, to raise an additional $41.6 million.

Wake Chair Jessica Holmes said she doesn't feel the the increase is enough, but she's proud of a historic budget of about $2,700 dollars per student.

"It is with great joy and sadness that I vote yes on this budget because I know that education is a great equalizer," she said. "The key word today is balance. We have to balance the interest of the school system, we have to balance the needs of our public safety department, our sheriff, our EMS and our human services departments."