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County Budget Would Boost Spending By 9 Percent, Raise Taxes

Steve Harrison/WFAE
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Dirio's budget would increase spending by 9.1 percent over last year.

Mecklenburg County's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would make significant increases in spending in most areas of the county budget: schools, parks, affordable housing, public health and pre-kindergarten programs.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools would get an increase of $50 million, a more than 10 percent increase over the district’s county funding last year. Most of that money would go toward raises, including $7.2 million to bring hourly school employees to $13.22 an hour, and $8 million to increase the county supplement for teacher salaries. 

"This increase will make CMS teachers the highest paid school district in the state of North Carolina by one percentage point," said county manager Dena Diorio.

CMS had asked for $70 million, along with $13.1 million in one-time funding for extra security and bus garages. The district usually receives less from the county than it requested.

Diorio’s budget comes after the county property revaluation earlier this year, which saw the value of property surge. Residential property values increased by 40 percent on average, and commercial property jumped by nearly 80 percent.

The budget would lower the property tax rate, but it would still be higher than the so-called revenue neutral tax rate. The state requires the county to disclose a tax rate that would raise the same amount of money as the previous year.

The new tax rate of 61.69 cents for every $100 of taxable value would essentially be a property tax rate of two cents.

The county says someone with a house valued at $250,000 last year – and now valued at $350,000 after the reval – would pay about $9 more a month in taxes.

"I do have concerns about being above revenue neutral," said Democrat Elaine Powell, one of four new commissioners elected in November. "But I think it’s crystal clear why we are. And so if we have to show bar graphs to show people why we had to go above revenue neutral, we can do that."

Democrat Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, who was also elected in November, said she needs time to digest the budget, but she said she believes it reflects the board's priorities. 

Credit Steve Harrison
Newly elected commissioners Elaine Powell (left) and Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said they are OK with a tax increased in this year's proposed budget.

In November, Democrats swept all nine commission seats for the first time since the 1960s. All three Republicans lost. Many board members campaigned on increasing spending.

Diorio said the county had to raise taxes to meet the commission’s goals.

"Based on all the investments that we made, we knew that we couldn’t keep it at revenue neutral, but we tried really hard to keep the tax rate as low as we could, and we really believe that anything under two cents, and when we did the analysis of the impact on individual tax bills, we felt confident this was a sweet spot," Diorio said.

The county has historically not been involved in building affordable housing – that’s usually a city function. But Diorio proposed spending $22.5 million – a more than $15 million increase from a year ago.

Much of the new money - $11 million – would cover a new rental subsidy program. 

Diorio says all county employees would receive a 5.5 percent pay increase, and the sheriff’s office would get $2.3 million for one-time bonuses to help retain officers.

Other proposals in the budget include:

  • Increasing public health funding by $4.4 million, to $83.7 million. The county would spend an additional $125,000 on a breast and cervical cancer prevention program; $424,000 on medicine to prevent people from getting infected with HIV; and $103,000 for a new environmental health employee to inspect swimming pools.
  • Spending an additional $21.1 million on pre-kindergarten classes. The total amount for pre-K would jump to $36.9 million.
  • Park and Recreation's funding would jump by $12.8 million, to $51.2 million. Diorio said the department would be able to hire 39 new employees, bringing the total number of employees to pre-2009 levels. The county slashed jobs after the 2008-2009 recession.
  • Central Piedmont Community College would receive $41.8 million, but only a $1.1 million increase from last year.

The county will hold a public hearing on the budget May 9 at 6 p.m., and the commission will hold straw vote session May 28 and 29.
The city of Charlotte hasn’t unveiled its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.