The Wake County Board of Commissioners today voted on how to allocate the $67 million in higher-than-anticipated sales tax revenues for Fiscal Year 2021, which ends on June 30.
“When we developed last fiscal year’s budget, we proceeded cautiously to ensure that we would be prepared if sales tax revenues plummeted as a result of the pandemic,” said Matt Calabria, Chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “Thankfully, sales tax revenues exceeded our projections, and our prudent financial management left us with a surplus. We’ve chosen to appropriate the surplus to address some of the county’s most critical needs. Among other things, the board is using these funds to create more affordable housing, expand our public health facilities, improve our behavioral health services and reduce our debt load.”
During its regular meeting, the board approved:
- Putting $22.7 million towards the county’s fund balance to ensure it maintains strong reserves as part of its prestigious AAA bond rating from the top three rating agencies;
- Devoting $12.3 million to the Wake County Public School System’s debt service; and
- Utilizing $32 million for important one-time projects and initiatives.
Breaking down the $32 million
The board voted to use those funds in eight key areas:
- $12 million for a future Public Health Center
The county originally budgeted $62 million in 2017 to develop and build this four-story facility, but cost escalations between 2017 and 2020 forced the county to reduce its budget and shrink the building plan to three stories. With this new injection of $12 million, the county can afford to restore the four-story design and even expand the square footage to meet growing public health needs.
- $7 million transfer to the county’s Housing Capital Fund
The board has challenged our housing department to generate 2,500 affordable housing units by 2023, and they’re currently on track to exceed that goal. The additional $7 million investment will enable their high success rate to continue for several more years and possibly support expanding our services that help the homeless.
- $2 million to fund a behavioral health data-sharing pilot project
Some data is collected on people who enter the criminal justice system with drug addictions or mental health challenges, but it’s not uniform or available in one central location. This pilot project would change that. It would create a single database for health, housing, criminal justice and social service information on our “familiar faces” – those who interact regularly with the county or its partners. This data would be used to help break the cycle of recidivism by providing the right services and interventions to those familiar faces.
- $1 million to restore funding to purchase library books
In FY2021, Wake County Public Libraries had to reduce its book budget by $700,000 due to the economic downturn. An infusion of $1 million will enable the libraries to purchase thousands of new titles while replenishing perennial favorites in children and adult fiction. It will also expand the collections for youth and adult book clubs, and support our bilingual reading initiative.
- $500,000 to fund a study of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office detention center medical services
For several years, the county has seen increased medical, dental, substance use and mental health needs among the jail population. The $500,000 will enable the county to hire a consultant in FY2022 to determine detention medical unit best practices, staffing models, facility needs and financial considerations.
- $150,000 for a marketing campaign to recruit businesses and talent to Wake County
To capitalize on the buzz generated by the recent series of announcements, Wake County Economic Development will use the $150,000 to fund a three-year marketing campaign to increase the county’s brand awareness. The goals are to reinforce that Wake County is the destination for top talent in key industries and the place where companies should expand or relocate.
- $7 million to improve the county’s Enterprise Resource Planning System
The county uses a traditional ERP system that houses the core functions of finance, budget and human resources, including payroll, benefits and accounts payable. Many of its processes still require staff to do work on paper or manually. The county is evaluating options to automate processes for employees and residents while making those processes solely electronic. The $7 million would help fund the cost of those enhancements.
- $2.35 million for Wake 2.0 investments
Due to COVID-19, employees in many positions across our organization worked remotely over the past year, proving that they can serve customers effectively from outside the office. Through an effort called “Wake 2.0,” the county is evaluating potential policy changes to accommodate more teleworking while taking a closer look at the kind of workspace needed in this new environment. The $2.35 million could fund facility modifications and IT investments to serve a more remote workforce.
These expenditures would amend the FY2021 budget to be accessed now or incorporated as part of the FY2022 budget. Per North Carolina law, Wake County is required to maintain a balanced budget.