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Bond referenda: Say yes to improving schools and roads

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Wake County hasn't had a bond issue for schools since 2006, when voters authorized $970 million in debt to build new schools and renovate older ones. That money is spent. It helped the county catch up to a growth wave that swelled Wake's student population from 107,000 in 2002 to 128,000 just four years later when the bond issue passed.

The number of students today is more than 153,000, with 40,000 more expected by 2022. That's why the Wake County Board of Commissioners, split 4-3 between Republicans and Democrats, voted unanimously to put an $810 million bond issue on this year's ballot. We urge a yes vote.

If approved, bond proponents say, issuing $810 million in debt will hike the tax rate by 5.5 cents, or about $145 a year on the average house in Wake County (value: $263,500). The alternatives—adding more classroom trailers and going to split sessions—might save in the short run, but in the long term would cost even more.

As school board members point out, the $810 million bond is a bare minimum. It will pay for 16 new schools (for $528 million), but just nine existing schools will be renovated—six fully and three with start-up money only—out of 28 schools identified as needing major upgrades. Total documented needs, according to board member Tom Benton, are more than $2 billion.

The opposition to the bond comes from the Wake County Republican Party, under the spell of its tea-party elements, and the right-wing Wake County Taxpayers Association, a group with a great name but few members. The centrist Wake Education Partnership, representing the business community, is campaigning for the bond. "In order to have high-quality schools, you need to, at a minimum, keep up with growth and renovation needs," its spokesman says. We agree.

The proposed $75 million bond issue for transportation improvements in Raleigh is questionable only because it's so small—too small to have any transit improvements and only a few million for sidewalks. Almost all the money is for widening roads and intersections that are bottlenecks given the growth around them. Raleigh keeps borrowing for this work (1998, 2000, 2005, 2011) because state aid for it never comes. It's tempting to be against this bond because of Raleigh's lack of progress on transit and walkability issues. But you can't say these road improvements aren't needed; we again suggest yes.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Strong bonds."

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