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Jones calls for $81 million in cuts; says 'we will not return to the past'

Mecklenburg County agencies have been waiting for several months now to hear how much their budgets for next year will be cut. Last night, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones gave them a good indication of what's to come. He made his recommendation to county commissioners to cut CMS by 6 percent, Park and Recreation by 37 percent, and libraries by 45 percent. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more. Harry Jones channeled something of an Old Testament prophet last night as he took to the podium to explain his recommendation. "The bottom line in these brutal facts is, one, we cannot afford the government services we have right now and, two, the future will be very different from the past. We will not return to the past in the near term if ever," Jones said. He also sent a strong message to the library system. In March, Jones told both Park and Recreation and the libraries to prepare to lose up to half their county money. Under Jones' recommendation, both agencies would get a couple million dollars more to work with than what that worst case scenario called for. But looking at the overall size of the budget, park and recreation got more of a reprieve. Instead of a 50 percent cut, Jones recommends Park and Recreation received a 37 percent cut. However, Jones still recommends a 45 percent cut to the library system. Jones says there was a good reason for that. "The level of involvement that we've had from the library hasn't been as open and transparent as I would like for it to have been and maybe we could've mitigated some of that reduction," Jones said. Under Jones plan, the overall department cuts average 8.5 percent. CMS and Central Piedmont Community College would lose about 6 percent of their county money. The sheriff's office would lose about $2 million, which accounts for about 2 percent of its total budget. Jones says his recommended budget "would shrink, contract, cut, reduce and/or eliminate current county programs, services, projects, positions and employees. Candidly, you will not find an easy choice contained in this recommended project," Jones told commissioners. About 440 county and library employees would be laid off if commissioners approves Jones' budget. That figure doesn't include CMS cuts. Commissioners have pledged not to raise property taxes to close the $81 million budget gap. But Commissioner George Dunlap had a hard time leaving that subject alone. He wondered aloud how much a 1 cent property tax increase would cost an average homeowner. "One would have to ask the question what has a community become when you'd lose all these services for $2 a month," Dunlap said. Jones recommends freezing employee pay and doing away with county matches to retirement plans. Commissioner Harold Cogdell wondered if that was going far enough. A public hearing is scheduled for May 27th. Commissioners will vote on a final budget June 15th.