If elected, what infrastructure projects will you prioritize for your county?
Our schools have $1.1 billion in capital improvement needs over the next 5 years, and $3 billion over the next 10. When we don’t take care of our schools, they begin to crumble. To preserve our investments and make certain our student have safe, clean learning environments, we must invest in those repairs and updates.
We also have a $2 billion rail line being proposed that would run from Clayton to RTP, servicing only an estimated 12,000 riders per day. This line, while clearly only a first step in creating a robust public transit system, does not provide service to most of Wake County, and will therefore be largely unusable for most residents. Critically, this route fails to include a stop at RDU Airport, opting instead for a stop nearby, requiring riders to take a shuttle. This is a notoriously bad deal for Wake County and will haunt us for generations to come. I will fight to get us a train stop at RDU.
Are there enough affordable housing options in your county? If not, what will you do to increase those?
There are not enough affordable housing options in Wake County, and this is probably our #1 infrastructure need. Wake County reached its 5-year goal for creating new affordable units in only 3 years, but they did so using temporary Covid money. Moving forward, we must employ every tool available to combat this issue or we will face the same fate as many fast-growing, tech-centric cities before us.
We must build new affordable units, preserve existing ones, and protect residents vulnerable to extreme property tax swings. We must consider alternative tax approaches, like the one in Toronto that taxes homes which sit empty for most of the year. We must also work with our local HOAs to consider any options they may have to prevent their communities from becoming primarily rentals. We must also expand assistance for first-time homebuyers, and even create programs for folks with stable incomes but lower credit scores (like many young folks with student loan debt).
What is the most effective role the county commission can play in improving the local schools?
The county commission play a key role in improving local schools in at least 4 important ways. First, we fund their capital improvement needs, and have historically underfunded these needs, resulting in repairs needs that compound and grow worse over time. Sometimes, this lack of attention can dramatically impact student performance, safety, comfort, and the lifespan of our buildings.
Second, we fund supplemental per pupil investments in our schools. Adjusted over time for inflation, Wake County pays $326 less now for high school seniors than it did when those students were in kindergarten. We must raise this supplemental investment to at least the levels we have previously seen in Wake County.
Third, we invest in Pre-K and early learning programs for children, which have been proven effective at improving childhood literacy and future academic performance. Our current commissioners are doing great work to expand access to quality Pre-K, and I look to continue this work.
Finally, the county commissioners can impact our local schools by serving as public education advocates. They must work together, as well as in conjunction with the local school board and their colleagues from across the state to lobby the NCGA and push forward the promise of the Leandro ruling.
What policies will you propose to improve the economy of your county?
Our economy in Wake County is thriving, and we have no problem attracting top quality businesses and talent to the area. We also do a great job, particularly through our K-12 public schools and partnerships with Wake Tech, at creating a pipeline of skilled workers for these companies. This rising tide in Wake County, however, is not lifting all boats. We must continue to invest in our human capital whenever possible. Significant raises for those who work in public service have been long overdue, and we must continue to make these investments if we wish to remain a economically diverse and inclusive community.
What policies would you propose to improve the quantity and quality of social services in your county?
Partnerships can be so important when it comes to social services. For example, WakeMed is hoping to build a 50-bed mental health facility and is asking for cooperation from the county, municipalities, and local elected officials. This is a great idea, very necessary in our community. Collaboration will be key to sharing the cost burden for construction and operation of this public benefit. This is the way.
In addition to collaboration and partnerships, we must also recognize the need to pay our civil servants good wages that respect their contributions to our community. It is past due time that increase pay across the board for these workers, and I am glad to see local elected officials working on just that. Wake County has offered raises and bonuses to its staff during the pandemic. EMS workers in Wake County recently saw an average 21% pay increase. This is a good start, and we must continue to make these investments in our work force.