RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County has taken the first step toward putting three bonds on the November ballot that will cost, in total, $1.1 billion.
If all three items are approved by voters this fall, it would result in a 3.8-cent increase to the county property tax rate to fund years worth of construction and capital improvements for Wake County Public Schools, Wake Technical Community College and the county's parks, recreation and open space efforts.
While there a few procedural hurdles to clear before the bonds will appear on the ballot, this is what you're likely to see come November and what we know about them so far.
What's going to be on the ballot?
There will be three separate bond questions for voters to consider on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot: a $548 million bond for Wake County Public School System construction over the next two years, a $349.1 million bond for Wake Technical Community College construction for the next four years and a $120 million bond for parks, open space and recreation construction for the next six years.
Wake County commissioners took the first step to put those questions on the ballot during their meeting on Monday, June 18.
How much is it going to cost?
Each bond item has a corresponding county property tax rate increase, so the total will depend on what is ultimately passed by the voters. If all three pass it would result in a 3.8-cent increase to the property tax rate starting next summer.
The tax rate increase for the WCPSS construction would be 2.3 cents if approved, 1.15 cents for Wake Tech's bond and 0.35 cents for the parks, open space and recreation bond.
Commissioners and county staff stress that the county will be responsible for WCPSS and Wake Tech's construction needs and that they will build and repair schools regardless of whether the bonds are approved. It will just be more expensive.
A voter referendum is required for the county to issue general obligation bonds, which the county says is the least expensive financing option available to them.
What school projects are planned for the bond money?
The wording you'll see on the ballot is intentionally vague and won't list specific projects. That gives the county some flexibility in case of an emergency, if economic factors change or unique opportunities present themselves. But we do have some idea of the projects intended for the bond money.
WCPSS relies on the seven-year construction plan agreed on by both the commissioners and Wake County school board. Of the $548 million, $140 million is planned for new schools including South Lakes Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina, a middle school in Fuquay-Varina, an elementary school in Apex, two elementary schools in southwest Wake County, a new high school in southwest Wake County and an unidentified elementary school.
The construction plan calls for another $283 million of the school bond to go toward complete and partial renovations at the following schools: Wiley Elementary, Stough Elementary, East Wake Middle, Conn Elementary, Fuquay-Varina High, Fuller Elementary, York Elementary, Swift Creek Elementary, West Millbrook Middle, Baucom Elementary and an unidentified middle school.
To round out the rest of the school bond money, $89 million would go to technology, infrastructure and property management and there's $36 million for contingency and management.
What about the park projects?
Again, the wording is intentionally vague, but we have a rough idea of what would be included in the bond thanks to the county's open space and park master plans. The projects mentioned in the bond during a March county budget retreat included acquiring 1,800 acres for future parks and open space, building about 15 miles of greenways to bridge gaps in the greenway system or to bridge gaps to major parks and renovations or upgrades to current parks ranging from adding park benches to adding a nature or education center.
Specific parks that could open or be renovated include Lake Myra Park, Kellam-Wyatt Farm Preserve, Robertson Millpond Preserve, Sinclair Nature Preserve and the Southeast Park.
It's unclear whether the controversial South Wake Park Project -- the former Crooked Creek Golf Course that was recently purchased by the Wake County commissioners -- would be included in the bond. County staff originally said it wouldn't be included, but Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said he thinks it will be.
And the Wake Tech bond?
If approved, most of the bond money — $309 million — would go toward major projects such as the community college's new Research Triangle Park campus. Some of those projects include a simulation for the Public Safety Education campus, an auto and collision repair building and health science lab and parking deck on the North Wake campus, a joint facility and parking deck in the Southern Wake campus, plus buildings and parking decks for the RTP campus.
About $24 million would go toward repairs and renovations, including heating and air conditioning and electrical work and $16 million for infrastructure upgrades such as improving accessibility and a mass notification system.
What happens next?
This is just the first step taken by the Wake County commissioners. The county will file an application with the Local Government Commission, a state body that has to give its blessing for local governments to borrow money. A public hearing will likely happen during the commissioners' Aug. 6 meeting. A final resolution will likely happen that same day.
Oct. 12, 2018, will be the last day to register to vote on the bonds, and the vote is scheduled for Nov. 6, 2018.
Didn't we just pass a bond?
Counties and cities have included a number of bonds and issues on the ballots in recent years.
The last school bond was in October 2013 for $810 million. It passed with 57.7 percent voter approval.
And it was in November 2012 that Wake Tech saw a $200 million bond, which was approved with 72.9 percent voter approval.
The last open space bond was in 2007 for $50 million and passed with 71.4 percent voter approval. In 1993, the county had the last bond for parks and recreation. It was for $10 million and passed with a 50.5 percent voter approval.
The Wake County Transit Plan — and paying for it with a half-cent transit-designated sales tax increase — was on the county ballot in 2016, but that wasn't a general obligation bond.