To avoid a tax increase amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wake County Manager David Ellis is recommending a $1.5 billion budget with no increase in education spending and the elimination of more than 100 county staff positions. 

Business closures from the Governor’s March stay-at-home mandate resulted in a 22 percent drop in sales tax revenue for the county, a $42 million decrease from last year. Although Wake County has experienced significant growth, surpassing Mecklenberg in population size, economic uncertainty from the pandemic still left officials with a $29 million revenue gap to fill.

By the time the situation became clear in mid-March, county officials had to scramble for solutions. 

“We had to pivot on a dime pretty quickly and basically rip up the budget we had been working on for over six months and start a new budget,” County Manager David Ellis said Monday during the Wake County Board of Commissioners presentation on the budget.

The 2021 fiscal year budget reduces spending by 17 million through a combination of workforce reductions, delayed capital projects and contract cuts. 

Overall, about 107 positions are slated for elimination, including 46 in the Wake County Sheriff’s office. However, 78 of those positions are currently unfilled, meaning 29 people would need to be laid off if the budget passes. Across all departments, salaries have been frozen. 

Some big ticket items, like the construction of a new Wake County Public Health Center, have been delayed. Further cuts were found by reducing library hours by two hours a day and cutting spending for new books by 15 percent. 

The budget provides no increase in education spending, denying the school system’s request for an additional $30 million for employee pay raises and charter school obligations.  

County Commissioner Susan Evans noted that flat-funding education, “will actually be a reduction if they see an increase in charter school students.” 

The school system will not have its final enrollment numbers until later this year, Commissioner Jessica Holmes noted. She was concerned about proposed reductions to the Human Services department, noting increased need due to the pandemic, which has left about 1 million North Carolinians unemployed. 

The board now has 28 days to revise the budget. Chairman Greg Ford says he’s committed to keeping taxes level. 

“A tax increase in this environment would be irresponsible,” Ford said. “We will find solutions, as difficult as they may be. Raising county taxes, in my mind, is not an option.”

Even if taxes stay flat, some residents may see an increase in their taxes depending on how much their homes appreciated in value due to last year’s revaluation. The proposed tax rate of 60 cents for every $100 of assessed value means a resident with a $250,000 home would pay $1,500 in county taxes. 

A public hearing on the budge is scheduled for June 1 at 5 p.m. The Board of Commissioners must approve a budget by June 15. 

You can view the full presentation on the budget here. 

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at

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