Riffing on the familiar gospel song "This Little Light of Mine," Board of Commissioners chairman Sig Hutchinson on Monday praised the bright side of life in Wake County—the rapid growth, increased transit choices, a wealth of educational opportunities, and the much-heralded quality of life.
The occasion was the annual State of the County address, where the person in charge totes up the pluses and minuses of the year. Hutchinson went strong on the positives but didn't ignore the spots where the light doesn't always reach, such as jail cells, emergency-department hallways, and homeless shelters where people with mental illness routinely wind up in Wake.
Citing a goal of becoming America’s first twenty-first-century region, Hutchinson put forth three central goals: a transportation system that works, a world-class educational system, and what he termed “our unsurpassed quality of life.”
"All of these are so important because, in today’s economy, talented professionals can and will go anywhere that these three are abundant and strong," he said.
The recent mayoral election showed that, at least in Raleigh, many citizens would dispute some of Hutchinson's claims. And he acknowledged their concerns in some parts, promoting the expansion of “our
opportunities and improving our quality of life for everyone" and "a clear path towards success and prosperity" for all.
Among the many developments winning praise were the successes of universities from N.C. State to Wake Tech, new money for transportation, including expanded bus rapid transit, and an outlay of 52 percent of the county's billion-dollar-plus budget for Wake schools.
"There is always more to do in providing for our most precious resource—our children—but we have made major strides as evident from these commitments," he said.
Just before the half-hour speech at five thirty p.m. in the Wake County Justice Center, Hutchinson and several other commissioners had again discussed the unpredictability of the Board of Education's budget request
. Interim county manager David Ellis said he would meet with school system staff to help smooth relations.
Noting Wake County and Raleigh's frequent presence on "best of" lists, Hutchinson warned that citizens shouldn't take that reputation for granted, as other cities across the nation were hot on the trail of
Wake's top-ranked status.
"We have a mandate, and a necessity to continue to invest in education, innovation, transportation systems, our great quality of life and green infrastructure," Hutchinson said.
The county CEO distributed praise liberally—to many county staffers, to Wake's ever-lengthening greenway system, and to a growing effort to combat food insecurity with a multipronged effort. In discussing the
lack of affordable housing, he mentioned the story of the more than one hundred former residents of Forest Hills Apartments in Garner
, who were cast out this year
by a landlord who planned to renovate the complex and charge higher rents.
"Just imagine putting one hundred thirty-six families, many with vouchers and housing credits, looking for new housing all at once when it’s already extremely difficult to find any available affordable-housing units," he said.
A group of individuals and public, private, and nonprofit agencies were able to find housing for all of those evicted, though some former residents spent considerable time in hotels paid for with a special fund requested by Commissioner Jessica Holmes.
Addressing the issue of growth—the often-mentioned sixty-seven people moving to Wake daily—Hutchinson asked the question that will likely both benefit and bedevil the county for years to come.
"How we can double in size while improving our quality of life, as well as ensuring that no citizen is left behind; our most vulnerable citizens are cared for, and all of our children are given the greatest opportunity for success?"