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While the race for the presidential nomination will be on the forefront of many voters headed into the ballot box Tuesday, several local races are also at stake.
Democrats are holding primaries for two seats on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. In District 1, incumbent Sig Hutchinson is challenged by Jeremiah Pierce.
In District 3, both Maria Cervania and Audra Killingsworth are running. (Read profiles of those candidates here),
Commissioners in all districts are elected county-wide.
The Wake Weekly asked several local primary candidates questions on jobs, education and budgeting. Their answers were lightly edited for grammar length.
HUTCHINSON: I am so proud to be known in Wake County for my longtime efforts to preserve open space, expand the greenway system, and make communities healthy and livable. I am proud to successfully have led seven bond referendums totaling more than $400 million in Wake County and the city of Raleigh for open space preservation, parks, greenways, transportation and affordable housing. Since being elected in 2014, I have had a track record of getting things done, which include passing a $2.3 billion transit referendum in 2016. I love doing this work, which is making the lives of our citizens better every day.
PIERCE: I grew up in southeast Raleigh and graduated from Broughton High School. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. I was raised in a working-class family that could barely make ends meet. I started working at age 12 to help pay the bills. I was the general manager for several restaurants for 12 years. I started my own landscaping business with $5 in my bank account. I worked at landscaping during the day and as a bartender at night for one year, until the landscaping business could support my family.
As a small business owner and someone who must meet a payroll every week, I understand the importance of fiscal responsibility, prioritization and focus. I will use my experience to ensure that Wake County is kept on a sound financial footing that responsibly manages taxpayer money to deliver the services that residents expect.
I am a husband and father. My wife, Kristi, is a second grade public school teacher at Conn Elementary School in Wake County. She also teaches Sunday school and on Wednesday evenings at our church. We are the proud parents of three children: Andrew is 9, Austin is 8, Anna Claire is 2. I am intensely proud that both Andrew and Austin attend public schools in Wake County.
HUTCHINSON: I continue to be concerned about higher taxes, which is why, for the last two years, I have voted against adding $10 million more to the budget, or about 1 cent on the tax rate. In the previous four years, property taxes have increased by close to 30% — all of which has gone to fund our public education system. Whereas I am a huge supporter of public education, including the highest teacher salary supplement in North Carolina, I continue to be concerned with keeping our tax rate low for our citizens and especially seniors.
PIERCE: Wake County is still one of the lowest-taxed counties in the country. Johnston and Durham Counties have higher taxes than Wake. We need to make our dollars work better. We do need revenue to provide services that our ever-growing population expects. The General Assembly can bring back the Homestead Act to freeze taxes for retired people or those living in poverty.
HUTCHINSON: I am chair of N.C. Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and vice chair of GoTriangle, as well as highly involved in these issues, including adding more transit and transportation options to our eastern municipalities and the completion of Interstate 540. I’m working with our mayors to add more greenways to eastern Wake County and then connect these greenways to the existing 250-mile greenway system. A lot is happening on the transportation front and I look forward to continuing to lead the way towards more transportation options and infrastructure spending.
PIERCE: Wake County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Along with growth comes responsibility to the people who already live here and to the environment. These challenges must be well managed. If elected, I will focus on developing infrastructure to support growth, meeting the needs for county services, and continuing to recruit world class companies with high wage jobs. I want to bring more bus rapid transit options. I want to explore building small hubs in our municipalities that allow buses to go to workplaces from smaller communities. This would eliminate the need to go downtown first and then back out and will allow us to serve more people. In these ways, we will continue to build Wake County’s diverse and talented workforce and allow more of our residents to get to where the jobs are.
HUTCHINSON: The real issue with public education spending is that the General Assembly isn’t doing enough. By constitution, it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly to fully fund public education, which is two-thirds of the education budget.
Wake County’s one-third is a supplement. It is now 57% of our budget — with the highest teacher supplement in North Carolina, which means we are getting the highest quality teachers. We also have the highest per-pupil spending in the history of the county. Can we do more? Sure, we can do more and we need to over time, but I am also very interested in continuing to keep our taxes low and the public education system accountable for its spending.
PIERCE: When I am elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners, I will partner with the Wake County school board to assure every child in Wake County can attend a great public school.
• I will support a continuing increase in per-pupil local funding until Wake County is comparable to Durham and Orange Counties.
• I will support Wake County students having access to guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers at the recommended national standards.
• I will support Wake County teachers having a salary schedule that is at least at the national average with additional compensation for advanced degrees and longevity bonuses for service in Wake County.
• I will support all Wake County school employees and county employees having a minimum livable wage and a benefit package comparable to the largest private employers in Wake County.
HUTCHINSON: Transportation and transit: We all know that traffic congestion continues to get worse. As chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and vice chair of Go Triangle, the regional transit agency, I’ve been on the front lines of investing billions of dollars in highway construction and transit, including working on the completion of I-540 and implementing the $2.3 billion transit plan.
Growth, sustainability and affordability: Growth and sustainability continue to be a front-burner issue to maintain our quality of life as one of the best places to live in American today, including great recreation opportunities and keeping our water clean and abundant. Specifically, I have been working on a long-term comprehensive land use plan; a 100-year sustainable water supply plan; and implementing the $120 million Open Space, Parks, and Greenway Bond. Finally, as Chair of the Upper Neuse River Basin Association (Falls Lake Reservoir), we’re working to keep our drinking water clean and abundant.
PIERCE: Affordable housing: The median price for a home in Wake County is over $230,000. This is not affordable for our teachers, our police officers and our firefighters. Public transportation and density must follow affordability. In 2018, the county dedicated one penny of sales tax to affordable housing, which was $15 million. This was established as a permanent funding stream. Since the property reevaluation, it is up to $18 million. We need to invest in all our communities to help protect them. We have been uneven in investment. There has been gentrification and we expect more. Our vulnerable communities are being left out. We need to meet with our municipalities more. The municipalities should be more involved so that we protect all of our people. We should be meeting together so that we can learn from each other.
Quarry opposition: The recent lease agreement with Wake Stone was not in the best interest of the county. I am against the quarry and the way it was done. It is an impending environmental disaster. We can file an amicus brief, join the existing lawsuit or file our own lawsuit.