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In Wake County, bonds for parks, schools are on the ballot in 2022

A sign by the Raleigh bond campaign committee
Jason deBruyn
A sign by the Raleigh bond campaign committee encourages residents to vote yes on a $275 million investment in Raleigh parks and greenways.

In addition to the federal and state elections in the upcoming November election, voters in Raleigh and Wake County will also consider bond proposals for local schools, the community college system, and parks and greenways.

Proposed Bonds

  • Wake County Public Schools (all Wake County): $537 million
  • Wake Technical Community College "Workforce Forward Bond" (all Wake County): $353 million
  • Raleigh Parks and Greenway (Raleigh only): $275 million

Bonds for local governments are just like mortgages for families. They borrow large sums of money in order to buy things today, and pay that loan back over time. Although interest rates have gone up in recent months, borrowing rates are still low compared with historic figures.

An election worker prepares an absentee ballot request at the Wake County Board of Elections office in Raleigh on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.
Jonathon Gruenke
for WUNC
An election worker prepares an absentee ballot request at the Wake County Board of Elections office in Raleigh on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

Both Raleigh and Wake County have strong bond ratings, a measure similar to an individual's credit rating, which allows those two governments to qualify for lower interest borrowing rates. Both Raleigh and Wake County have an AAA rating, one of the highest possible.

If all three bonds are approved, it would total more than $1.1 billion of new borrowing combined for the two governments, and would come with property tax increases.

The bonds would add more than $120 per year to the average Raleigh homeowner's annual property tax. The Raleigh parks and greenway bond accounts for the majority of that increase, so the tax impact on Wake County property owners outside of Raleigh would be smaller — about $35 per year — though the exact figure depends on each homeowner's property value.

To estimate the tax implication, governments publish the amount that taxes would increase for the median property value. If your property value is higher or lower, the tax implication will also be higher or lower by the exact same percentage difference from the median value.

Wake County Median Property Values

  • Wake County: $337,000
  • Raleigh: $257,000

Annual Tax Impact

  • Wake County Schools: $21
  • Wake Tech: $14
  • Raleigh parks and greenway (Raleigh only): $103

These types of bonds are generally supported by voters. Since 2000, Wake County voters have approved bonds in eight different elections totaling more than $4.3 billion. Most of that total, more than $3.3 billion, has been for the public school system.

Wake Tech Bond

Wake Technical Community College's Perry Health Sciences campus is tucked behind WakeMed Health and Hospitals in Raleigh off New Bern Ave. near the I-440 interchange. It has a modern building, but also a much older one. In fact, one building there used to be a nursing dorm for the hospital and predates the college itself.

If approved, this old building would make way for a new 120,000-square-foot expansion of the health campus, allowing for the expansion of the college's nursing programs. A recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study estimated the state could face a shortage of as many as 21,000 qualified nurses in the coming decade. Wake Tech President Scott Ralls says he wants the school to educate a workforce, not only in nursing but in other medical and technical job roles as well, to fill those workforce needs.

Projects for the Workforce Forward bond include:

  • Perry Health Sciences campus expansion
  • Permanent Western Wake campus
  • Cyber science facility on RTP campus
  • Infrastructure investments at aging campus buildings

This bond has faced some criticism. At a recent community meeting to promote the bonds, some Wake County residents asked Ralls why they should pay for these expansions when it will be industry that will benefit from the workforce.
Wanda Hunter, who is running for Raleigh City Council, pointed specifically to the hundreds of millions in tax incentives given to companies like Apple, and asked why industry doesn't pay to educate its workforce.

"Apple comes in with corporate welfare, and yet we've got to pay the brunt of where they say the people are going to come from," she said.

In response, Ralls says it's generally easier to see private industry pay for scholarships and other programs, but not for capital investments.

Wake County Public Schools

Wake County's population growth has been well-documented. Since 2010, the county's population has increased by 66 people every single day, on average. That population growth is expected to continue, meaning there will be an ever increasing number of school-aged children packing into schools. The system now has 160,000 students.

In North Carolina, state government generally funds the majority of costs of operating K-12 schools by paying the bulk of school employees' salaries, while county governments generally fund buildings and facilities. To accommodate an increasing student body, Wake County Public schools wants to add three new elementary schools, and one new high school, as well as make upgrades to air conditioning and safety systems at other schools around the county.

Keith Poston is president of Wake Education Partnership, a nonprofit that supports Wake County public schools. He's not employed by the schools but advocates for them. At a recent community meeting, he said schools need infrastructure and safety improvements as well.

"We need to get out of the trailers that are dotted all over our schools," he said. "These temporary classrooms that weren't meant to be anything but what they are: Temporary. But yet they've become permanent fixtures in our schools."

He added that attracting industry to Wake County is from his perspective a good thing, but that it's now the county's responsibility to train workers for those new job roles so they are not hired from elsewhere and simply relocated here.

"We have to do our part, and part of that is investing in our education system and making sure that we're producing and showing our students the kinds of jobs that are available here in Wake County," he said.

Nick Neptune
Jason deBruyn
Director of Outreach for Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy Nick Neptune hits the campaign trail to encourage voters to support the Raleigh Parks and Greenway bond.

Raleigh Parks and Greenway

Supporters of the bond in Raleigh are quick to tout that the projects were chosen with an eye toward equity.

"What we're trying to create here, is investing in those communities that have been underinvested in," says Mary-Ann Baldwin, the mayor of Raleigh. "And making sure that they get what other people in our city have gotten over the years."

The bond would fund 20 projects around the city. The biggest of which would be a $54 million aquatic center at Chavis Park, one of Raleigh's parks that suffered from historic under-investment over the years. Another $30 million would fund the redevelopment of Tarboro Road Park in east Raleigh.

City officials can't officially advocate for bonds. But advocates like Nick Neptune, the director of outreach for Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, have hit the campaign trail.

"We're talking about an investment in over 20 different park and greenway projects across the city," Neptune said. "And I'm talking about like a majority of these parks are neighborhood parks. Community parks that you will find in your backyard."

Baldwin has been a proponent of a parks bond for years and initially wanted to put the bond on the ballot two years ago. When the pandemic hit, she and the city council changed course, deciding it wasn't time to put that proposal to the public. An $80 million affordable housing bond did pass two years ago, and some have criticized the city for putting forward a parks bond that's more than three times the size of a housing bond.

In response, Baldwin says the housing bond leverages further investment from developers, so the bond will generate a larger benefit. For a parks bond, the city has to go it alone on construction, which is why it is a larger figure, she says.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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