Transit Tax: The Elephant in the Room for Wake Commission
Another Triangle county has approved a half-cent sales tax for improved transit, but that doesn’t mean Wake County is any closer to a similar move.
Orange County voters this month agreed to a half-cent sales tax increase for the purpose of transit, adding their “yes” to Durham County, which approved the tax last year.
According to Triangle Transit spokesperson Brad Schulz, all the county plans are separate, which means Orange and Durham Counties can move forward — with or without Wake’s participation.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the [Wake County] Commission to decide when the issue will be debated and what steps will take place after that,” Schulz said in an email. “Each county is responsible for its individual transit plan and the funding for it, including bus service within its borders and service that may be provided for Wake citizens to other counties in the Triangle.”
The Orange County plan (see the FAQ and plan documents at the end of this article) calls for greater bus service and a light rail line between Chapel Hill and Durham.
Plans for Wake County include expanded bus service and commuter rail between Durham and Raleigh. So far, some Wake Commissioners have not been receptive to the proposed plans. The Republican majority has stalled any attempts at discussion during meetings.
The board’s make-up remains the same now that elections are over, with four Republicans and three Democrats on the board.
Wake Commission Chair Paul Coble has said he wants more information. He posed several questions to Triangle Transit about the plan. Those responses were delivered to Commissioners Oct. 1. However, the body has still not yet had a public discussion about them.
Coble said last week they are still reading and studying the responses. The passage of the tax in Durham and Orange counties does not put pressure on Wake County to follow suit, he said.
“Wake County is going to do what’s appropriate and not be driven by somebody else’s decision in some other county,” he said.
Coble said the Commission will take up the transit issue “eventually.”
Wake County Manager David Cooke said he expects that discussion sometime early in 2013. There is only one Commission meeting in December, he said, and no work session.
“The soonest the next referendum could be anyway is next fall,” he said. “We’ll follow that process through the winter-spring, and I imagine there will be a lot of discussion, debate and questions.”
Capital Area Friends of Transit Executive Director Karen Rindge said she feels Wake’s turn is coming. The passage of the Orange tax and increasing bus ridership signal a shift in the area.
She also pointed to plans to revamp Research Triangle Park into a more dense, transit-friendly space.
“Clearly the next step is Wake County,” she said. “We think the fall of 2013 is an ideal time to put it on the ballot. The demand is there; we’ve seen in recent report from all the area bus systems that they’re continuing to see unprecedented growth and demand in our bus systems despite the fact that they are not what we need them to be.”
Rindge said they will be working “diligently to keep Wake Transit on the agenda to encourage Wake Commissioners to release their final plan and to send it to the town councils around Wake County and ask for their vote on it.”
Reporter Ariella Monti contributed to this story.