Five Candidates Vie For At-Large Seats On Mecklenburg County Board Of Commissioners
Three at-large seats are up for grabs this election on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, which sets the county's budget and policies. Five candidates participated in a debate Tuesday at WTVI. One of the ways they differentiated themselves was on the referendum to increase the county sales tax.
The three Democratic candidates say they'll vote yes on a quarter cent increase to the county sales tax. Commissioners have promised that 80 percent of the new revenue would go to raises for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school employees. Central Piedmont Community College, arts institutions and libraries would share the rest.
Incumbent Trevor Fuller is current chair of the board of commissioners, and he led the drive to put the referendum on the ballot.
"We must pay our teachers, but more than that, we need to pay our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our custodial staff," he said. "We need to do this in order to maintain the strength of our educational system."
Another Democrat, Ella Scarborough, is a former five-term member of the Charlotte City Council. She's been out of politics since 2001, when she lost the mayor's race to Pat McCrory.
Scarborough supports the sales tax increase.
"If education is, in fact, number one, then we must put money in number one," she said.
The third Democratic candidate is incumbent Pat Cotham, former chair of the county commission. Her fellow Democratic commissioners removed her from the leadership position last year after several felt left out of the process of picking a new county manager.
Cotham said she'll vote for the sales tax increase, but it's not ideal.
"Because this is iffy, and I think the teachers deserve something much better than this," she said. "But it is what we have, and I'm disappointed in that, but I will support it."
Cotham called it "iffy" because commissioners would control where the additional revenue goes. By law, sales tax revenue can't be restricted to certain things.
That's part of the reason the Republican candidates don't support the referendum. Emily Zuyus is a small business owner and CMS parent.
"The community was not involved with this decision," she said. "There's no guarantee that the money is actually going to go as it says it will."
Fellow Republican Scott Carlisle agreed. He's been involved with the county's Republican Party since he was young. He also raised this point:
"More importantly, it's a regressive tax," he said. "It unfairly harms the poor and lower classes." That's because poor families pay a larger share of their income in sales taxes than wealthy families do.
Carlisle and Zuyus agreed that if voters pass the referendum, they'll fight to ensure the money goes where commissioners promised it would.
Here are some of the other topics the candidates debated:
-Zuyus and Carlisle said that lowering the property tax rate would make Mecklenburg County more attractive to businesses.
-Cotham said that the county is making progress in its recovery, and she praised CPCC for the workforce training it provides.
-Fuller said prosperity starts with the education system, so the county needs to continue investing in it.
-Scarborough said when companies move here, the county needs to make sure they're creating new jobs and not just bringing people in from elsewhere.
Parks And Recreation
-Scarborough wants to put more money into the system.
-Zuyus is pleased the county has increased funding for it and emphasized the time to buy land is now because of how quickly the county is developing.
-Cotham and Fuller echoed Zuyus' point.
-Carlisle pointed out the parks and rec department creates opportunities to work with at-risk youth.
-Zuyus said the county needs to work on its digital offerings.
-Carlisle said free Internet and computers at the libraries are crucial for some people who are out of work.
-Cotham said the county should study libraries in other places that put a bigger emphasis on digital offerings.
-Fuller said this is another example of why sales tax referendum is important because libraries would get more money.
-Scarborough said the county needs to make sure it stays current with digital offerings or else residents will fall behind.
Smoking Ban On Government Grounds And At Most Parks
-Carlisle and Zuyus are concerned it could be an overreach.
-Cotham was initially concerned about overreach but thinks the revised policy is reasonable.
-Scarborough said there should just be designated smoking areas instead of a ban.
-Fuller supports a complete ban but is willing to accept a compromise.
They all agreed that pre-kindergarten is important, poverty is a still a problem, and the county's top priority for capital investment should be acquiring land for parks.
You can watch their full debate this Sunday on WTVI.