The 2016-2017 Wake County Budget

Next week, the County Manager will issue his proposed budget. Knowing Jim Hartmann the way I do, I expect his proposed budget to be well-reasoned, supported by data, and moderate. We have had some internal discussions about areas of emphasis, and of course, the school system has adopted its official request. All of those numbers will come together in a proposed budget on Monday, and then we can start discussing the good and the not so good.

One thing about Jim Hartmann, he will have done his homework, and if I or anyone else disagrees with a budget item, we’re going to have to do a lot of work to come to a conclusion other than the one he reaches. We have tasked Jim with the direction we believe the people want the County to go. He and his team of professionals will give us their best shot at getting us there over the next 12 months.

I expect that a good budget will not please everyone. That’s kind of the way budgets work. But I will be looking for the direction the county is headed under a proposed budget. If I feel it is headed the right way in a responsible fashion, I will be inclined to support it. If not, I’ll speak up. Either way, I’ll listen to you.

This year in particular, I will be looking for a few specific things:

  1. a dedication to the lowest responsible tax rate we can sustain while meeting our responsibilities.
  2. maintenance of historically-high appropriations to the Wake County Public Schools, to continue the recovery from a period of underinvestment.
  3. focus on the areas of emphasis passed by the County Commission this year, including a renewed effort to care for those people who are in our custody, whether that is through the Sheriff, Child Protective Services, or Mental Health. We have a responsibility to meet their needs, and to keep them and our County employees who support them safe.
  4. continued support for cultural, economic, educational and charitable institutions that promote a sense of community here in Wake County. Last year I was happy to support increased investment in the NC Symphony and Smart Start. Those are the kind of high return-on-investment agencies I am speaking of.

In addition, at our work session on Monday, we heard a report from the Wake County Fire Services Director. Chief Campasano laid out a detailed plan that the Fire Commission and Commissioner Calabria have put together to improve the service and funding of our rural and community fire departments around Wake County. That plan will require changes to the fire tax, which the Manager will also recommend Monday. The plan makes sense and will result in better and more efficient fire protection for the 20% of our population that live within the fire tax district (essentially those outside of the service areas of the Raleigh and Cary Fire Departments).

As usual, I will be as transparent as I can be on my thoughts and concerns about the budget. You are welcome to contact me.

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