Bond Pits New Schools Against Higher County Debt, Taxes

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In 2006, Wake County voters approved a $970 million bond for school construction by 53 percent. An $810 million school bond on the ballot this year could be a test for voters on whether they feel like the economy has improved enough for the county to take on more debt and increase the property tax rate.

The new bond will be part of a $939.9 million plan to build 16 new schools and renovate six schools, and additionally to start on three other renovation projects, technology and security upgrades, land for future schools and roofing, painting, heating/air conditioning replacements.

According to Friends of Wake County, one group that’s promoting the bond, repaying the bond will require a property tax increase of 5.5 cents, about $145 more a year for the owner of an average home in Wake County valued at $263,500.

The Bond Language on Voter Ballots

Shall the order adopted on July 15, 2013 authorizing not exceeding $810,000,000 SCHOOL BONDS, plus interest, of the County of Wake, North Carolina, for the purpose of providing funds, together with any other available funds, for constructing, expanding and renovating school buildings and other school facilities in said County, and the acquisition of related land, rights of way and equipment, and providing that additional taxes may be levied in an amount sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds be approved?

Construction of new schools will take the majority of the funds. WCPSS plans to spend $528.3 million on new schools, $243.9 million on renovations and $167.8 million on other upgrades.
The proposed plan would run through the 2017 fiscal year. There were 149,508 students in the Wake school system by the mid-point of the 2012-13 school year. Administrators estimate that by 2017, the school system will grow by about 20,000 new students.

However, since 2006, growth at Wake schools has actually slowed down, according to enrollment projections from school system and Wake County offices. The 2006-07 school year was a peak growth rate for Wake schools, when student population increased by 6.3 percent from 2005-06.

By 2009-10 however, growth had slowed to 1.4 percent, the slowest since 1983-84, at most recent.

Fred Olds School on Dixie Trail Road in Raleigh.

Karen Tam / Raleigh Public Record

Fred Olds School on Dixie Trail Road in Raleigh.

Ed Jones, chairman of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, said his organization has looked into the school system and found there is capacity to accommodate additional students for a few more years.

“We find there are as many as 2,200 classrooms that are not efficiently used by the school system,” Jones said. “We’re all for building schools, but we do not feel the board and administration have demonstrated and proven an honest need for all these new buildings they’re talking about at this time.”

“Even though bond money is relatively inexpensive and the cost of construction is more favorable than perhaps it has been in the past,” Jones said, “we feel it’s prudent and wise to delay for at least a couple or three years the consideration of these school bonds.”
Tim Simmons, spokesman of Wake Education Partnership, a group connecting the business community with the school system, said the reasons for his organization’s support of the bond were “pretty straightforward.”

“The businesses that invest in the Partnership understand that a high-quality life begins with high-quality schools. And in order to have high-quality schools, you need to, at a minimum, keep up with growth and renovation needs,” he said.

“While we have room on the east part of the county, we don’t have room on the west side. And we can’t reassign those kids. Moreover, this particular bond issue will repair the schools and virtually every school will be affected by an upgrade in technology,” he said.

“So from a business perspective, it’s obvious as to why this is a good thing,” he said.
The renovations funded by the bond are proposed to be for Green Elementary School, Spring Elementary School, Lincoln Heights Elementary School, Brooks Elementary School, Garner High School, Rolesville Elementary School. The bond is also proposed to fund the start of renovations at Stough Elementary School, East Wake Middle School and Apex High School.

If the bond passes, Wake County would still have one of the lowest property tax rates in the region.

However, the debt taken on by the county would rank it the third highest in projected overall debt per capita among similar counties with AAA bond rating, the highest possible bond rating.

For instance, Mecklenburg County’s debt per capita is $2,810. With the passage of the bond, Wake County’s would be $3,214.

The previous $970 million bond in 2006 was proposed to help pay for $1.1 billion in construction and renovations work for 15 new schools, 14 existing schools, and purchasing land for 13 future schools, as well as technology upgrades and other improvements.

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