WENDELL — Mayor Tim Hinnant recently described himself as a road block to expanded transit across the Triangle.
The drafted plan he opposes would raise sales taxes by a half-cent to pay for expanded bus service to every Wake town and install a commuter rail between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Hinnant briefly described his feelings at a recent Wendell commissioners’ meeting: “I felt like eastern Wake would be paying for western Wake’s economic engine,” he said, recalling his vote during a Wake County Mayors’ Association meeting in 2012.
Hinnant said his vote was significant because, as the lone dissenting vote, it blocked the association from sending a letter to Wake County Commissioners urging them to seek a public vote on expanded transit and the sales tax needed to pay for it. The association only takes positions on an issue when it has the support of every mayor.
However, it remains unclear if Hinnant’s vote, indeed, obstructed a letter to commissioners. At least one other Wake County mayor, Keith Weatherly of Apex, opposes the drafted plan and a transit referendum. But Weatherly doesn’t remember how he voted or if he spoke during the transit referendum discussion. Nor does Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe, who served as president of the association during the transit discussion.
“I don’t remember if it was only one mayor or more than one (who opposed pushing for a transit referendum),” Holcombe said. “Once we get to any opposition, we won’t discuss things further.”
Hinnant didn’t return phone calls or emails seeking comment.
The GOP-controlled Wake board of commissioners has been reluctant to put expanded transit to a vote. Board Chairman Joe Bryan, of Knightdale, says a referendum to build more schools is a top priority, and that could possibly raise property tax rates by more than 5 cents per $100 value.
The mayors association is not a governing body, so it has no legal influence on Wake’s county commission. And last week, Bryan denied that a letter from the association would immediately change his position. But a letter from the association supporting a referendum couldn’t have hurt, Bryan said.
‘Nothing in it for Wendell’
“Being a former mayor, (a letter) is going to carry a lot of weight with me,” Bryan said. “I’ve got great respect for Wake County mayors and certainly welcome their input.”
He added: “But (the push for expanded transit) still has to be done at the appropriate time. At this point, the timing’s just not right.”
Bryan’s stance is exactly why Wake County mayors and supporters of expanded transit need all the help they can get pushing for a referendum, says Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
“(Hinnant) really feels like there’s nothing in it for Wendell. I understand ... and I think this is why we need to study the plan and see if you can make it more inclusive,” McFarlane said. “That’s why I think it’s important for (commissioners) to open up the conversation.”
McFarlane considers expanded transit a top priority for Raleigh and a key to continued economic growth in the Triangle. But she’s frustrated Wake commissioners haven’t put the drafted transit plan on their agenda for further discussion.
“The issue is commissioners won’t even look at the plan,” McFarlane said. “It’s hard to move the conversation forward when they won’t even look at it.”
She added: “People are moving here and we know we don’t want to put planning off until it’s too late. I don’t really know what the hesitancy is to have the plan out there.”