Fuquay-Varina will be able to save millions of dollars in road improvements under a statewide law passed Thursday that allows towns to shift costs back on to school systems.
Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation that said municipalities had to reimburse school districts for money spent on projects that improved the municipal street system. But legislators approved a new bill this week that allows cities to condition approval of projects on the school system waiving or reducing the reimbursement for the road improvements.
Courtney Crowder, the lobbyist for the Wake County school system, said the budget change was added after Fuquay-Varina lobbied Rep. Nelson Dollar and Sen. Tamara Barringer. Both Cary Republicans did not immediately return requests for comment.
Wake plans to build six new schools in Fuquay-Varina in the next few years, likely resulting in millions of dollars in potential road improvements.
“The Town believes that the school system (public or private) should be responsible for making the road improvements necessary to mitigate their impact on the transportation network," Fuquay-Varina Town Manager Adam Mitchell said in a statement. "This is the responsibility of any entity developing property.
"Public school construction, and any infrastructure needed to support their construction, is a County responsibility in North Carolina and it is not reasonable for town taxpayers to be solely responsible for costs attributable to all County taxpayers.”
Tim Simmons, a Wake County schools spokesman, said the district would have preferred that lawmakers hadn't made the change. But he said they'll work with the towns under the new arrangement.
The new wording comes as Wake expects to spend more than $2 billion over the next seven years on construction projects.
The issue of road improvements around school construction projects is a long-running source of tension in North Carolina.
Towns say schools should have to pay for all the road improvements needed due to the additional traffic that will be generated by the new schools.
But school districts have complained that the road improvements requested have been excessive.
Lawmakers sought to resolve the issue last year by saying that towns would reimburse schools for municipally mandated road improvements. The state Department of Transportation was directed to reimburse schools for state-mandated road improvements.
Lawmakers said that towns can't make approval of projects contingent upon school systems waiving or reducing the reimbursement amount. That restriction was removed in Senate Bill 335, which makes technical corrections to this year's state budget.
The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.
During Thursday's House Appropriations Committee meeting, Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said the new wording undoes all that was done to prevent towns from asking schools for too much in road improvements.
"Now we are saying that, 'Yes you can ask the school to or hold the school hostage or hold it for ransom,'" Torbett said.
Torbett said that he's worried that the change means there's no limitation on what municipalities can ask school systems to pay for in road improvements. He said that, in effect, school districts will be the only ones paying impact fees to municipalities.
Dollar, a lead House budget writer, said towns in fast-growing areas are worried about all the road improvements that will be needed due to new schools.
“The cities are saying, 'Wait a minute. Why are we having to build all these roads to be able to get a school sited in our particular area?" Dollar said.