Name as it appears on the ballot: Matt Calabria 

Credit: Wake Technical Community College Credit: Wake Technical Community College

Campaign website:

Party affiliation: Democrat

Profession or occupation: Attorney, incumbent commissioner

Years lived in Wake County: 13

1. In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Wake County? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?

First, the Commission should continue expanding affordable housing options. This includes not just increasing our affordable housing stock but working with municipalities to enact forward-thinking planning and zoning ordinances.  (See discussion of housing in response to questions below.)

Second, Wake County must continue to support public education.  In my three terms as a Commissioner, I worked successfully to help raise local teacher pay to the highest in the state. Not only have we substantially increased the number of school counselors, psychologists, and social workers in a time when we are seeing increased need for their services among our children, but in the years immediately preceding the pandemic, we decreased the school-to-nurse ratio from about 4:1 to about 2:1.  I have also been the county’s leading champion for combating hunger–particularly childhood hunger. Lastly, we have greatly reduced the school construction and renovation backlog left over from the Great Recession.  However, we still have room to improve, and I hope to build on these efforts next term.  That will likely include, for example, expanding pre-K programs and responding to critical labor shortages in our schools.

Third, Wake County should better address economic development and economic mobility. It will be important for us to grow in a way that prioritizes transportation, preserves open space, explores worker training opportunities, and develops vibrant downtowns.  We will continue to need programs that give workers opportunities for economic advancement while also helping companies by filling critical gaps in our labor force.  For example, I am particularly proud of having spearheaded the WakeWorks program, a groundbreaking new initiative launched in 2020 that provides paid apprenticeships and full Wake Tech scholarships to students enrolling in “critical-need” professions such as electrician, HVAC maintenance, cybersecurity, paramedic, plumbing, and other skilled trades and professions.  Worker training, entrepreneurship supports, and other steps will be essential to enabling workers to make better lives for themselves and their families.

2. How would your experience―in politics or otherwise in your career―make you an asset to the county’s decision-making process? Be specific about how this experience would relate to your prospective office.

Being an attorney in private practice helps me better analyze the laws and policies the Commission deals with on a regular basis and gives me a better sense of how public policy impacts residents and businesses alike. I am also a mediator certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission to conduct mediations in North Carolina’s Superior Courts, and I have a record on the Commission of bringing people with disparate viewpoints together to find consensus.

As the son of a public high school principal, the product of public schools, and the father of a school-age daughter, I know how important it is to maintain a strong public education system. I have also been honored to serve as a volunteer or board member for several charitable or service organizations, and those experiences shape my understanding of what a community can do and how to bring stakeholders together to accomplish great things for our community.

Lastly, having served eight years on the County Commission, I am one of the board’s most experienced members.  That provides me with a deep well of knowledge about the details of our budget, the histories behind various programs, and the key stakeholders that we would need to engage to get something done.  It has also given me the ability to advise newer commissioners so they can more effectively achieve their goals.

3. With Wake County’s rapid growth comes challenges related to suburban sprawl, transportation, and affordable housing. What have been the county’s successes in managing this growth in recent years? What about its failures? What would you do differently?

Managing growth requires careful planning and a willingness to make smart investments in our people and our infrastructure so that we are prepared for the demands of future populations.  Because of the various forward-thinking steps it has taken in recent years, Wake County is headed in the right direction overall.  Since I was elected in 2014, we have caught up on a school construction and renovation backlog left over from the Great Recession and expanded economic opportunities for citizens of all walks of life. We have also invested in libraries, parks, and other services so that we won’t just maintain but improve our quality of life as we grow.  Wake County should continue to ensure we are planning—and budgeting—for services that track with our anticipated population growth.

Regarding transportation, I was proud to be one of the leading advocates for the passage of the 2016 transit referendum that is in the process of tripling bus service and will ultimately develop commuter rail across the county.  In the coming years, we will need to ensure that our system continues to expand in both geographic reach and frequency/convenience.  We should also evaluate the results of early on-demand and micro-transit programs to ensure that we stay on the cutting edge of transportation services.

As for affordable housing, Wake County has made great strides in expanding our affordable housing stock.  Passed a few years ago, our landmark affordable housing plan has involved major changes in our housing apparatus: creating a stand-alone housing department, developing a proactive system to identify and preserve naturally occurring affordable housing before it is redeveloped, expanding support services, creating rental and utility assistance programs, working with landlords on behalf of renters, etc.  In 2021, we hit our five-year goal of creating 2,500 affordable housing units–and it was only year three.  We are now putting more than 1,000 new units online every year.

Still, as our community evolves, we should redouble our efforts to address housing affordability and other pressures affecting cost of living.  I believe we can do a better job of working with our 12 municipalities to develop collaborative, cross-county housing affordability strategies.  Eighty percent of Wake County’s population lies within its municipalities, and so does an even greater percentage of its growth.  Beyond government-supported housing units, the planning and zoning structures set up by municipalities greatly affect the ratio of housing supply to housing demand, which in turn is perhaps the greatest local determinant of housing costs.  Although complicated and difficult to tackle, we need to improve our efforts to identify achievable goals across the entire county and work collectively to achieve them.  That will include trying to foster density in the right places and endeavoring to help develop more vibrant and walkable downtowns.

4. What should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality, such as gentrification and affordable housing? Do you believe the board is doing enough to help its municipalities manage Wake County’s growth in order to prevent current residents from being priced out? 

In addition to working with municipalities to enact forward-thinking planning and zoning ordinances as discussed above, Wake County should continue to put more affordable housing units in play each year.  On top of that, I have been proud of the work that my Commission colleagues and I have done to build a surveillance program for identifying and tracking affordable housing so that we have early warning as to when each parcel is likely to come up for sale or is otherwise at risk of being redeveloped.  We have also seeded a fund that is allowing us to partner with companies to raise millions of dollars to preserve this naturally occurring affordable housing.  In the coming years, we must execute on these programs and spend the money wisely in furtherance of housing affordability.

Wake County should also enact programs that help not just renters but property owners as well. While state law all but prohibits counties from adjusting property tax bills for those in acute need, we can implement programs that help low-income populations with other things that affect their cost of living, such as utility bills.  As transportation is the second-largest cost for most families, providing additional public transit options will help as well.  Lastly, we can better assist already-struggling families when they encounter one-time costs that might otherwise be crippling.  One example is to create a no-interest loan fund that enables property owners to take care of needed home repairs so that they can maintain adequate shelter, heating, and other essentials.

These are just some of the measures I hope to pursue in the coming years.  Tackling a complex problem such as this one will require a multi-pronged approach.

Wake County’s municipalities have authority over planning and zoning within their jurisdictions, leaving a small minority of the county under the authority of county government.  Although county government is not well-served by micromanaging municipal decisions, the county can bring significant housing resources to bear.   As alluded to elsewhere in this survey, we should do a better job of sharing information about the nature of our collective housing challenges and how we might be able to coordinate to overcome those challenges.

5. The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted to give the Wake County Public School system a $50 million budget increase over the last fiscal year to hire more employees and raise teacher pay, $12 million more than the county manager had recommended. Was this the right move? Please explain.

Yes. For context, budget resources to help the Wake County Public School System manage the escalating demands upon it were greatly constrained in the budgets of 2020 and 2021 when COVID-19 was at its most menacing. Furthermore, state government has continued to underfund our public schools.

In our tight labor market, we are seeing major shortages among teachers, bus drivers, and other school personnel.  To allow WCPSS to fill these critical gaps and to enable it to recruit and retain great educators in the long run, competitive increases in teacher compensation were necessary.  In addition, our move to improve pay for bus drivers and other non-certified staff positions to $16/hour was not just essential for competitiveness but was the right thing to do for employees who deserve to be able to make ends meet.

Lastly, among the other major improvements that were provided for in the schools’ most recent budget, we were able to support the addition of more counselors, social workers and psychologists.  We know that children are facing increasing stresses and challenges that heighten the need for social, emotional, and family supports.  The improvements in our last budget meaningfully expanded our ability to provide those supports.

6. Wake County has received $217 million from the American Rescue Plan. Has the county done a good job investing that money into its COVID-19 response, healthcare, housing, public safety, and other community initiatives? 

Yes.  The Wake County Commission and our staff of top-notch professionals have been extremely thoughtful and deliberative in the distribution of ARPA funds.  The pandemic shined a light on areas where we’ve long had room for improvement. Therefore, my colleagues and I chose to utilize some of the American Rescue Plan funds not just to address immediate COVID-related needs but to rebuild our community better than it was before.

The uses of ARPA funds are numerous, but I will discuss a few here.

When I served as chair of the Commission in 2021, we launch of a $62 million package we called Elevate Wake, a sweeping set of programs designed to improve the lives of all our residents, especially those hurting the most.  For example, all too often, a person’s life expectancy is determined more by their zip code than by their genetic code.  That’s why we allocated $12 million to more fully address challenges associated with what are known as the social determinants of health, e.g., a lack of stable housing, inadequate transportation, and a shortage of nutritious food.  In fact, we invested nearly $4 million to strengthen our food security programs so that fewer families will go hungry.  By working with local providers, we have been able to break down these barriers and help folks live longer, better lives.

Because the pandemic exacerbated many of the housing challenges faced by our residents, we directed millions in funds toward needed housing supports. This included $10 million to increasing capacity in our homeless shelters and permanently housing residents faster than ever before.  And because people in our jail encounter myriad obstacles when attempting to re-enter the community, we dedicated $3 million to housing, transportation, and training opportunities that will reduce recidivism and empower people to achieve healthy, productive citizenship.

Lastly, in our country and our county, the fire service is perhaps the least diverse field of government service.  Nationally, only 4 percent of firefighters are women. In Wake County, it’s 3 percent. Even more glaring, all women and racial and ethnic minorities combined represent just 6% of our Fire Service.  That’s why we launched a program to pay trainees for the many weeks spent going through the fire academy and to encourage more women and people of color to work for our Fire Tax District.

These are just examples of how we used ARPA funds to rebuild our community stronger than before.  I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish by utilizing these funds.

7. North Carolina is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning that the only powers municipal and county governments have are the ones granted to them by the legislature. Would you like to see this changed? How would you work with state legislators from Wake County, as well as mayors and council members from the city’s municipalities, to ensure that Wake County, its municipalities, and the state are on the same page regarding policies that affect residents of Wake?

Most states provide more authority to local governments than North Carolina does—and for good reason.  Local government entities tend to be nimbler and are better suited to developing creative solutions that are tailored to local needs.  While I would not necessarily be opposed to putting reasonable bounds on local authority, moving our state more toward “home rule” would empower local governments to tackle problems as they arise—especially those that happen not to have been foreseen by prior legislatures—and would help us better serve our residents overall.

Whether or not North Carolina remains a Dillon Rule state, I would endeavor to continue to work collaboratively and communicatively with federal, state, municipal, and other leaders.  In the 8 years I have served as a county commissioner, I believe I have developed strong relationships with my elected official colleagues, and those relationships have helped us accomplish great things for our community.  It starts with communication.  I try to check in with my counterparts and stakeholders on a regular basis so that I can learn what challenges they are facing, think about possible solutions, and determine how the county can better support them in their roles.  As the county provides nearly 100% of the school system’s construction funds and about a third of its operating budget, it is particularly important to see things through school board members’ eyes because that helps me make more informed budgeting decisions.

In addition, governing calls us to think about policy, not politics. By focusing not on parties—or even on people—but on results, we can find more common ground.  I also try to focus not on what I might be able to do over the objections of others, but instead on what I can accomplish while incorporating others’ legitimate points and interests.

Lastly, particularly as it regards our interactions with the state legislature, it is important that we work in a thoughtful, responsible way that evidences good reasons for our decisions.  Using the authority that we do have in a way that inspires faith, predictability, and confidence in local government is not just the right thing to do. It also tends to preserve that authority and, on occasion, even enable us to obtain greater authority when needed to tackle exigent local issues.

8. Is the county doing enough to protect, preserve, and maintain its natural resources, including parks, waterways, and green spaces?

Yes, but we must continue along our current path.  It is incumbent upon us to continue on a path of preservation because, as we grow, undeveloped land will become more and more scarce.  In the past several years, we have opened a large number of nature preserves, worked to make major expansions in our greenway system, and even taken steps to increase the number of trees along our roadways.  We currently have more new parks, greenways, and open space projects in the pipeline than we’ve had in memory.  This includes projects like Beech Bluff County Park, a 300-acre park that will be located in southern Wake County and is scheduled to open within the next 2 years.  It also includes steps to extend the lease on Lake Crabtree Park, as well as the preservation and opening of new natural spaces in several areas of the county.  Lastly, we have worked to protect agricultural land by collaborating with farmers to promote the use of local produce and putting in place programs that help preserve their land in perpetuity.

9.  Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.

Decisions about whether to adjust the tax rate are always controversial, carry the risk of alienating voters, and generate significant voter feedback.  I have encountered this already while in office and expect to do so again. My policy is that I am willing to adjust revenues one way or another based on what I believe is the right thing for the community.  It’s important that people know what they are getting for their money, and they have to know it is being spent efficiently and effectively.  As a result, when I look at potential tax adjustments for education and other important endeavors, I will do my best to ensure that every dollar raised is necessary, but I will ultimately do what I think is appropriate to provide the kind of services county residents want and expect.  Voters, like shoppers, don’t just look at price; they also look at value.

10. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here. 

Thank you for your consideration in this year’s election!

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