A new budget for Wake County including a 1.5-cent property tax increase was presented to the Board of Commissioners on Monday for consideration. 

If approved, the $1.7 billion budget would take effect July 1. The proposal includes investments in public health and safety, housing affordability, and education. It would also address one of the biggest challenges the county is facing right now: growing demands for service accompanied by rising costs for employee recruitment and retention. 

As the county grows, adding 20,000 people per year, more demands are being placed on staff in every department, according to Wake County Manager David Ellis. At the same time, other counties and states are offering more competitive salaries and lesser workloads.

“The demand for our services increasing every day, but our funding and staffing are not keeping pace,” Ellis said. “I want to stress (that) burnout is not just a buzzword. It’s a real problem and we’re seeing it in our organization. Our turnover rate is at 16 percent, the highest it’s been in decades.” 

In order to hold on to quality employees, Ellis recommended the creation of new positions and pay raises for existing employees. 

The budget’s 1.5-cent tax increase—the first in three years—would bring the property tax rate to 61.5 cents per every $100 of property value. That means the owner of a $337,000 home, the average assessed home value in Wake County, would pay about $50 more per year, according to the news release. 

If approved, the tax increase would generate an additional $29.2 million for the county’s general fund. 

The budget proposal includes: 

— Adding $4.2 million in each fiscal year of the county’s capital plan to create new affordable housing units and preserve existing ones; 

— Investing more than $968 million, or 57 percent of the county budget, in education. This includes $4.6 million for pre-K programs for income-eligible 3- and 4-year-olds and $582.5 million to support Wake County Public Schools’ operating expenses; 

— Funding early voting for the November election, as well as increasing pay for temporary Board of Elections administrative staff from $15/hour to $18/hour to attract skilled workers; 

— Adding more staff and software to address the increase in development in Wake County. This includes inspectors to review design plans, analysts to map properties, and monitoring to ensure proper control measures for stormwater are in place; 

— Adding new positions to Wake EMS and the fire departments to address rising 911 call volumes and staffing shortages; 

— Increasing clinic staffing in regional centers, which would expand services available to patients and reduce transportation barriers to care;

— Restoring Wake County Public Library hours cut in FY 2021 due to the pandemic. The move would add 10 hours per week back to the operating schedule. 

How to Comment on the Budget

People can comment on the budget proposal by filling out an online form. Residents can also make comments in person during hearings on the budget on May 11, 16, and 18. 

The public comment period will remain open until 6 p.m. May 18. At that time, the county will provide a summary of all feedback received to the board, the news release stated.

The board will meet to discuss the budget during a work session May 9. They will meet again at 2 p.m. on May 23 to discuss public comments and recommend possible changes to the budget. They will consider final approval of the budget on June 6. 

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com.