New Year Means New Schools In Wake County

What are your top three priorities if elected?

Public education, transportation and improving the health and well-being of our citizens with quality jobs, affordable housing and safe communities.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The role of the Board of Commissioners is to approve the Wake County Public School System budget, of which, over the past three years, we have approved 97 percent of their requested funds that makes up 52 percent of our budget. We have also increased the average Wake County teacher supplement by $2,600, now totaling $8,500, which is the highest by far of any county in the state.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

We are the second-fasting-growing large county in America today, and with that growth comes opportunities and challenges. Most importantly, we must be accountable to the voters in how we allocate their tax dollars by clearly articulating what voters will receive, including better schools, safer communities, improved transportation and a higher quality of life.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

Of course, smart growth can provide higher quality and more affordable housing with more transportation options and a great sense of community. This is exactly what I have been advocating for as a commissioner for the last three years and a community advocate for the last 20 years, including more greenways, open space, parks, affordable housing and transportation options.

Jeremiah Pierce, Wake commissioner candidate

Jeremiah Pierce, District 1

What are your top three priorities if elected?

First, assure our public schools have the funding they need to give every child in Wake County a great education. Second, work with businesses, builders and local municipalities to make sure we have affordable housing and inclusive communities. Third, establish a livable wage policy for all county and school employees.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The Board of Commissioners should not micromanage the school system. That should be left up to the school board and administration. The commissioners should partner with the school board to provide the resources needed for a school system that serves all students well.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

With anything in life, if you want the best, you have to pay for it. We should be smart with economic development that grows resources. We should be assertive in our advocacy at the state and federal level to assure our county is treated fairly. Increasing taxes should be a last resort with the support of citizens.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

The county has to be a strategic partner not only with our municipalities but with surrounding counties and the state in promoting smart growth. We should plan our growth with clear goals on future jobs, transportation, housing, schools, parks and recreation and the environment. The county should have the best urban planners and share that expertise.

Lindy Brown, Wake commissioner candidate

Lindy Brown, District 2

What are your top three priorities if elected?

My top three priorities are adequate funding for public education, first responders and promoting workforce affordable housing.

Wake County’s population has exceeded the 1 million mark, which impacts our Wake County Public School System and Wake Tech enrollments. Many of the students in our 187 public schools are experiencing depression, anxiety, bullying or suicidal tendencies, are experimenting with opioid substance abuse or have learning and behavior problems. As a former clinical social worker, I propose we provide funding to hire more nurses, counselors and social workers, who are trained to identify and develop a plan to help our students be successful. We must allow our teachers to teach and our professional support staff to help ensure no barriers will prevent each student from getting the best quality education possible.

Our first responders (sheriff, fire and EMS departments) are experiencing many vacancies due to competitive salary and benefits, outdated equipment and maintenance repairs on vehicles. Our first responders put their lives on the line to protect and serve Wake County. I propose adequate funding to remedy the vacancies, outdated equipment and vehicles.

Many of our teachers, first responders, veterans, city, county and state employees would benefit from workforce affordable housing. Most are unable to buy or rent a home in Wake County, where they work. Each day, these employees are traveling to neighboring counties in a 45-minute to an hour traffic commute. Housing is essential for all workers who provide services to our county so they can efficiently get to work. I propose we provide adequate funding for this program and work with the developers and private sector to allocate specific lots (acreages) in new development in all 12 municipalities.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The role of the Board of Commissioners is to be the "banker" for building public schools, provide funding for teachers’ salary supplement and support staff such as custodians and bus drivers, and professional staff, such as counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. The Wake County Board of Education "manages area schools."

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public's limited appetite for tax increases?

According to the Wake County FY 2018 Recommended Budget, Wake County is currently growing by 67 people per day. Wake County is the second-fastest-growing county of its size in the nation, where Travis County, Texas, is No. 1. Former County Manager Jim Hartmann stated, "Our existing revenue is growing, but it’s not enough to address the increasing demands on the services the county is required to deliver and the services the public expects us to provide."

I propose that we address our "basic priorities" (public education and Wake Tech, health and human services, public safety, general government/workforce and partnerships, county capital debt and growth and development) first for four years over other county amenities, such as land banking for open space and parks. I appreciate open space and parks for the future. However, let’s develop the ones we already land-banked during my tenure as a county commissioner (2006-10). The county staff has already reported that Wake County has a "revenue cap" that must be addressed with a tax increase. I propose a tax increase as a last option.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

Yes, I support smart growth in Wake County. I propose Wake County continues to address busing/light rail transit plans that overlap with land-use, water quality protection issues involving clean drinking water from Falls Lake and Jordan Lake and ensuring that affordable housing is available to people of all income.

Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria

Matt Calabria, District 2

What are your top three priorities if elected?

First, Wake County must increase its support for public education. As the son of a high school principal and the proud product of public schools from kindergarten through college, serving our teachers and students has always been my top priority and should remain our county’s focus. In my first three years as a county commissioner, I voted to increase county support for public education by 27 percent, which is significant considering that public education comprises more than half of the commission’s budget. I have worked to raise Wake’s local teacher pay by 44 percent ($2,600), making it the highest in the state. I also voted to make Wake County the first county in the state to put local funding toward SmartStart, and I have been the county’s leading champion for combating childhood hunger through various school programs. In addition to building on these efforts, I hope to provide needed teaching supplies, hire more school counselors and social workers and pass overdue increases in bus driver compensation.

Second, the Wake County Board of Commissioners should continue our march toward expanding affordable housing options. This includes not just increasing our stock of affordable housing, but working with municipalities to impose forward-thinking planning and zoning ordinances that create more housing options at prices people can afford. Not only has the board recently allocated millions of extra dollars to better address Wake County’s affordable housing needs, but I have a perfect voting record when it comes to approving affordable housing projects that have come before the board. Our unanimous passage of the county’s first comprehensive affordable housing plan will bolster these efforts and help us chart the best course for decades to come.

Third, Wake County should better address economic mobility. Our region’s economy has grown rapidly in recent years, but too many Wake residents are still excluded from that prosperity. North Carolina’s largest cities rank poorly when it comes to the ability of working-class families to improve their economic outlook. As local leaders, we must work to expand opportunities for upward mobility and insist that no one who works full time should live in poverty. I have worked hard to lead by example by authoring a living wage ordinance for county workers, supporting Wake’s first ban-the-box ordinance, enacting our first paid parental leave policy and making Wake County government one of the country’s healthiest employers. I even founded programs that provide worker training, life skills courses, GED/HISET classes and case management to our jail inmates so they have the best possible chance to live good, law-abiding lives outside the justice system. In my second term, I will endeavor to improve opportunities for upward mobility by continuing my work with Capital Area Workforce Development and other county programs and agencies to improve worker training and incentivize businesses to be good employers to their workers. I am also hoping to eventually create an Economic Mobility Commission to bring together stakeholders to work on these issues on a more permanent basis.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

Typically, local governments are tasked with building and maintaining our schools, while the General Assembly funds all operating costs. Unfortunately, since 2010, legislative leaders have been opposed to making necessary investments in our teachers, administrators, staff and programming. In my first term, the Wake County Board of Commissioners has stepped into the breach, investing an additional $100 million into our public schools. We've also expanded important programs, including my initiative to create or expand food security programs, which now exist at 157 of our 184 schools. The Board of Commissioners should work closely with the school board to fund important initiatives but ultimately must respect the school board’s independent, co-equal role in managing school operations. We should also fully fund the jointly created school construction and renovation plan to ensure that our school facilities keep up with growth.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

Rapid growth in our local economy has allowed Wake County to make sizable investments in our schools, infrastructure and first responders while keeping taxes relatively low. As a county commissioner, a voter and a taxpayer, I will continue to prioritize support for our schools, affordable housing, parks and the best community college in the country. Those priorities are essential to maintaining our quality of life. Thankfully, the county’s public transportation expenses will be self-contained and adequately provided for due to the landmark transit referendum I worked to pass in 2016.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

Yes. Ultimately, growing well involves understanding where you want to be in 10 or 20 years and implementing policies that get you there. The county has enacted forward-thinking planning and zoning measures, including making sure we protect critical watersheds and allowing accessory dwelling units to naturally alleviate some of the need for affordable housing. We must work with municipal partners to help them do the same. We should also work to preserve undeveloped land in Wake, which is becoming scarcer every day.

I have also worked to foster manageable growth by being a leading advocate for public transportation. I am looking forward to implementing the county’s historic transportation plan, which will reduce traffic by tripling bus service and building a commuter rail line across Wake County.

Lastly, I want our economic development efforts to benefit people from all walks of life. That means bringing high-paying jobs in and bringing working-class folks up. We recently hired the county’s first economic equity officer, and we are working on implementing all sorts of programs to help underprivileged citizens to get back on their feet. I also voted to add more than 100 new affordable housing units every year I've been in office, and I supported the passage of Wake’s first ever comprehensive affordable housing plan.

Susan Evans, Wake commissioner candidate

Susan Evans, District 4

What are your top three priorities if elected?

As a recent Wake County Public School System board member and finance professional, I will bring a more informed, cooperative collaboration between the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education for supporting a well-funded, high-quality public school system.

It is imperative that we move forward with the implementation of the recently developed Wake Transit Plan for expanding transit options for our residents and easing traffic congestion.

Deliberate solutions for addressing the diminishing supply of affordable housing in parts of the county must be pursued in collaboration with our municipal partners. My 16-year career in the home building and land development industry will provide a useful perspective in this work.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The individual responsibilities of each elected board should be respected. It is the responsibility of the school board, superintendent and school system staff to oversee the operations of the school system. Therefore, they must be relied upon to determine the prioritization of funding needs for the school system’s county appropriation budget requests each year.

The county commissioners and county staff should collaborate with the school board and WCPSS staff, as needed, to understand the components of each budget request, but the commissioners should never dictate the priorities for the school system. The commissioners’ role should be confined to determining the amount of operating funding they are able to provide the school system in the context of the overall county budget requests and their potential revenue streams. Commissioners should never publicly make judgmental statements about how the school district is spending their money, as long as it is consistent with their stated budget priorities and their strategic plan.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

Setting budgets with competing needs and limited resources is always a challenge. It is certainly most important that we provide for our residents most basic needs and priorities will have to be weighed accordingly each year. Additionally, most people in the county understand the importance of a strong public school system. Having a high-quality school system has been a strong economic driver for our county, and most residents appreciate that investments made there are important investments for our future. Our property taxes are considered quite reasonable in comparison to what many have paid elsewhere to fund strong public schools. Having a large county-based school system where we enjoy large economies of scale has historically enabled us the ability to afford quality schools at a bargain.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

With our continued growth in residents, we must plan for efficient use of our infrastructure. Moving forward with the Wake Transit Plan is imperative. Careful zoning and collaboration with municipalities that encourages an appropriate mix of density in housing will be important as we become a more urban region while being mindful of placing housing near access to transit. Protecting our water supplies from excessive development runoff must be a focus, and therefore, we must push the General Assembly to implement the Jordan Lake Rules that have been put on hold for several years, for example.

Wake County Commissioner Erv Portman

Erv Portman, District 4

What are your top three priorities if elected?

Fix the way we provide local funding for our schools so it is predictable and keeps up with growth long term. Find creative ways to close the shortage of affordable housing and help those most in need. Be sure we protect some of the natural beauty of this county before it’s lost to development forever. These three things will keep us healthy and one of the best places to live in the nation for generations to come.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

By law, our responsibility is to pay for the buildings, and the state is to fund operations. Unfortunately, the State of North Carolina has been failing to support the operation costs, so we choose to stand in that gap and fund the shortfall. Consequently, today 76 percent of all property tax collected goes to support our schools. We run all the other county functions with the last 24 percent and sales tax. Our role is and should be limited to providing the resources, the school board is responsible for running the system. That’s why both boards need to better collaborate and adopt a shared vision, one that the entire community can support.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

Carefully, and with an eye on the future and an ear on the concerns of the community. For too long, our county has flip-flopped between too little and too much, with voters objecting every time the board goes too far in one extreme. This new board is just right, and that’s key to long-term success. But the county responsibility goes far beyond schools. We are the proverbial "safety net," serving those most in need. We are the stewards of our land in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. Keeping a balance and protecting the environment and natural beauty of this place is the job. There are always more ways to spend money than money. Commissioners need to say yes to the best ideas and no to the rest. That’s the job.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

I hope everyone is for smart growth – it beats the alternative. I think smart growth is a budget that addresses all of our needs over five years, sets a tax rate that can fund those needs and not raise taxes every year. Being good stewards of the things we all count on – fresh air and clean water, good jobs and a healthy, beautiful place to live – all with a board that is open to what citizens have to say and respectful in the way we make decisions. Our citizens deserve our best work, and I am committed to that.

Robert Finch, Wake commissioner candidate

Robert Finch, District 5

Did not respond

Wake County Commissioner James West

James West, District 5

What are your top three priorities if elected?

I want to strengthen Wake County’s competitive advantage by making strategic investments in our public schools and keeping our community college strong. I also want to strengthen our economic base and attract good jobs that provide at least a livable wage to strengthen the capacity of youth and families in vulnerable communities, as well as increasing mobility through public transit and protecting our environment.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

Commissioners are required under state law to provide funding only for capital. Presently, 52 percent of the county’s budget goes to public education. In addition to capital funding, we have taken on the role to work with the Board of Education to clearly define their relevant needs and to identify gaps that should be addressed to achieve success factors for a high-quality district. The superintendent’s budget identifies the funding needs to maintain a quality district. The county’s role is to evaluate the request to help meet the needs and provides accountability for our taxpayers.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

The counties are required by state law to fund the statutory requirements such as public education, public safety, human services, etc. This requirement helps us to balance needs related to funding. The county’s sound planning, solid financial policy decisions have played a key role in meeting and balancing the needs of a growing county. For instance, we constantly maintained a AAA rating by the three rating agencies. We also have cutting-edge financial modeling in making our financial decisions.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

The county’s successes can be attributed to excellent forward thinking, planning and implementation of smart growth principles by updating the unified development ordinance utilizing sound land use and zoning tools. The development and implementing of sound transit and funding policies can help address these growth issues, especially affordable housing, displacement and job opportunities along transit routes. Differently, I would build a strong and vibrant local regional citizens advisory structure for greater citizen involvement and accountability.

Vickie Adamson, Wake commissioner candidate

Vickie Adamson, District 7

What are your top three priorities if elected?

I am running for public office in a county of 1 million people because I want to stand up for Democratic values – well-funded public schools, affordable workforce housing and human Services for the vulnerable citizens, from our newborns to our senior citizens. Too many Wake County residents are not sharing in the prosperity of our county, and there are many things Wake County government can do better to listen to the needs of all its residents.

Increase local school funding. Our schools deserve better. With the assault on public education by the General Assembly, funding public schools should be the top priority for the Wake County Board of Commissioners, and this year, we must pass a school construction bond. With class-size mandates, we are in crisis mode to build enough classroom space. Along with this funding need, we must improve working conditions for our teachers. Our Wake County teachers work hard, and that’s why I want our teachers to have the support systems they need – counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses – to care for the whole child, so teachers can focus on teaching and learning. I will fund the helping professionals we need in our schools. I will pay all school employees a livable wage, and I will put a school construction bond first this year.

Expand affordable housing throughout Wake County. I know families are struggling to find affordable and stable housing in our community. Our county government needs policies and incentives that expand housing options for everyone. I will bring my work experience with Fortune 500 companies to help us look for ways to prioritize and maximize our budget and partner more efficiently throughout the community. I am willing to re-evaluate all of our policies to make sure we are not aiding the gentrification of our neighborhoods, and I will look for ways to have a mix of affordable housing in Wake County. We are losing 900 affordable housing units a year to redevelopment, and at this point, only adding 500 more units a year. We have a growing number of homeless citizens, including more and more women and their children and seniors. As a mother, I empathize with our homeless women and their children. I will be a county commissioner who not only cares about everyone – women, men, children and seniors – but I also will do something about it.

Prioritize human services for the aged and our most vulnerable children. I know that many of our families are missing out on our county’s prosperity. I will put renewed emphasis on needed human services for our very youngest children and our seniors. County government needs to focus on people and its core business. I want to and I will put Wake County’s children and families first in every county program, especially mental and public health and human services programs.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The Board of Commissioners should let the school board do their job. They are an elected board. I have read the WCPSS budget cover to cover and did not see one program I felt was wasteful. Just the opposite, most programs looked underfunded.

Our community supports public schools, and our community expects the school board and county commissioners to work together for our students. I pledge to be a partner with the school board on our shared goals. I will not disparage the school board with hostile rhetoric, and instead, I will encourage open dialogue and respect between the boards.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

No one, whether a Democrat or Republican, ever wants to pay more taxes than needed. At the same time, it is definitely worth investing in a high quality of life, public education, public safety, recreation and transportation, for our

community. We are a thriving area because we value great schools, essential human services, strong libraries and nice parks. Always, the first step is to assure that our current resources are being well deployed. I have faith in the citizens of Wake County to fully fund our high quality of life. I will be a good steward of taxpayer dollars but am also willing to raise taxes to keep our quality of life high. I will seek the community’s input on this issue. I pledge my support for putting our children, their teachers and families first.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

Wake County has some effective plans and work going on to promote smart growth. The initial work in the long-term transit plan is moving forward well, and Go Triangle is a great partner for transit.

The strong growth in Wake County is also a strain to our educational systems. Wake County is obligated to have seats for every school-aged child who lives in our county, and Wake County’s budget is strained to meet the needs of that growth. There are about 35 babies born every day in Wake County – that is two kindergarten classes born EVERY DAY. Wake County has benefited from a strong K-12 school system, local universities and Wake Technical Community College as a foundation of our local economy.

I do believe we are close to a tipping point in our county due to c tontinuous, nonstop growth – overall our population grows by 67 people every day, with new births and in migration. That growth continues to crowd our schools and roads. I feel that we cannot let our schools, neighborhoods, quality of life (including clean air and water) suffer. I want to engage our citizens in this conversation and restart the 2008 Growth Management Task Force (with representatives from all municipalities, the school board and chambers of commerce) to develop a new 2020 and beyond plan.

Wake County Commissioner John Burns

John Burns, District 7

What are your top three priorities if elected?

Continuing the progress we have made in funding and improving the Wake County Public School System, executing the landmark 10-year transit plan and bringing that vision to completion, and preserving and protecting our clean water supply for the next generation.

What role should the Board of Commissioners play in managing area schools?

The Wake County Board of Commissioners should be a full partner with the school board in preparing children for life in the 21st century. We provide one-third of the school system's budget. For the last 12 years, the General Assembly has reduced the state's commitment to public education. Prior to our election,, the county did as well. Since 2015, however, we have increased the county commitment to public education by nearly $100 million a year, increased local teacher pay by 44 percent in three budgets and jointly established a seven-year plan for school construction and committed to fully fund it. We have worked hard to recover from a decade of neglect, and we have more to do.

It is not, however, the commissioners' role to micromanage the schools. The school board sets curriculum and personnel policies, the county taxpayers provide the funding and the commissioners set the level of county funding consistent with the many other responsibilities of county government.

How best do you balance the needs of a growing county (public safety, education, recreation, transportation, etc.) against the public’s limited appetite for tax increases?

This question is essentially the job description of a county commissioner. Every issue and interest in a community as diverse and growing as ours is important. Every interest has its supporters who believe that their specific interest is the most important thing we do and deserves maximum commitment and funding.

As a commissioner, I have tried to evaluate all responsibilities of county government, from funding schools to protecting our water supply, from preserving our excellent quality of life to recruiting new economic growth to the region and adapting to that growth, by making sure that county funds are spent effectively. I support things that return value to the taxpayer. By value, I mean a measurable improvement to our quality of life that can be expanded and improved upon even further.

This job requires many tradeoffs but always with an eye toward steady and real progress.

Should the county promote smart growth, and if so, how would you do that?

Our greatest strength as a community is also our greatest challenge. We are a wonderful place to be, and many people and companies want to be a part of it. Growth is coming. There is no avoiding it. So we need to pursue growth that improves our quality of life and the life, health and happiness of all of the people who live and will live here. The county plays a key role in that, providing the essential services and acting as a clearinghouse for good ideas and a funding source for those projects and ideas which improve that quality of life.

That is why we developed and passed the 2016 transit plan, which will reduce congestion and direct future development along accessible corridors, preserving affordability and reducing traffic. That is also why we have done things like the 20-year Affordable Housing Plan, the Parks and Greenways Master Plan and the work of the Wake County Water Partnership, which I developed to produce a 50-year clean water plan that makes sure we do not outgrow our water supply.

Smart growth is growth that does not destroy the reason the growth is occurring: a high and sustainable quality of life for all our citizens.

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