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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

NC group that recruits and trains Democratic candidates has cleaned house

A polling place at the McCrorey YMCA
Erin Keever
A polling place at the McCrorey YMCA.

The North Carolina Democratic Party has embraced a 100-county strategy in 2024, hoping to end a run of mostly disappointing elections. The GOP has won the last three presidential races and the last five U.S. Senate races, and held on to big majorities in the state House and Senate.

Part of that plan: Getting candidates to run, even in races where they will be longshots.

In the past, the party has been helped by the nonprofit group Lead NC.

Raleigh-based LEAD NC does not specifically align itself with the Democratic Party, but its platform mirrors many of the same goals: It calls for supporting candidates who want “cleaner, more renewable forms of energy;” affirms that people “have the right to decide if and when they will have a child,’ and supports “accessible and fair elections free of unnecessary obstacles and intimidation.”

All of its featured candidates — whom it considers alumni — are Democrats. One is Mecklenburg State Sen. DeAndrea Salvador.

Mecklenburg State Sen. DeAndrea Salvador is an alum of LEAD NC
Mecklenburg State Sen. DeAndrea Salvador is an alum of LEAD NC.

During the Blue Wave in 2018 — when Lead NC was also active — Democrats had a challenger in every state Senate and every state House race except one.

But in last year’s election, Democrats didn’t even file a challenger in 14 of the state Senate’s 50 seats. They also passed on fielding a candidate in 30 of the state House’s 120 seats.

Now, LEAD NC is going through a massive reset.

The group’s executive director, April Harley, resigned in February. Her last day was March 1.

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After that, LEAD NC sent an email to supporters saying that “additional staff changes were warranted” to ensure the new leader can succeed.

One member of the LEAD team was Charlotte activist Ray McKinnon, who was the group’s director of recruitment and leadership.

McKinnon said he has no comment about the changes and wouldn’t say whether he’s still employed there.

Rev. Ray McKinnon
Ray McKinnon
Ray McKinnon
Ray McKinnon.

Harley, the former executive director, said she couldn’t discuss what’s going on at the group because of “confidentiality.”

Former Mecklenburg State Rep. Chaz Beasley, who is a co-chair of the Lead NC board, also declined to answer any questions about the shakeup and its plans moving forward. The group’s revenue in 2020 was roughly $320,000, according to its tax form.

Let’s talk taxes

The big property tax news this year centers around the Mecklenburg County property revaluation, the first in four years.

Homes in low-income areas will see a larger percentage increase in value than those in wealthy areas. While that bodes well for those homeowners’ nest eggs, it could produce sticker shock in 2023 when new tax bills are sent. And there are at least three big entities eyeing more tax revenue: The city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Let’s break the possibilities down.

First up, the city of Charlotte:

The Charlotte City Council didn’t make a decision about raising property taxes in a budget retreat this week, but there were a few pretty obvious tells that one may be coming.

City Manager Marcus Jones said he understands council members’ concerns about rising taxes. But he said the city will have to spend more to retain workers.

“I'm not going to propose a budget to you with no compensation increase,” Jones said. Council member Tariq Bokhari said staff is “telegraphing” the need for a tax hike.

The city also wants to raise the sales tax by a penny to pay for a transit plan, but that’s unlikely to happen in 2023. (The General Assembly needs to give the city permission to place the tax on the ballot.)

Mecklenburg County Commissioners haven’t made a decision yet about a tax rate for next year. Commissioner Pat Cotham said she thinks a majority of commissioners might vote against a property tax increase, though that’s far from certain. And commissioners have said the county would likely need more tax revenue to pay for services and amenities like expanded parks and greenways.

The big question is whether voters approve a mega-bond for new school construction and renovations that’s likely to be $2.5 billion to as much as $3 billion.

Mecklenburg County last week released its projections of how the CMS Capital Improvement Program would impact a homeowner’s tax bill.

Mecklenburg County
Ken Joyner, Mecklenburg County tax assessor.

The starting point, of course, is the revaluation. Before the reveal, the median value of a home in Mecklenburg was $239,300. That’s expected to rise to $384,000 this year.

If the county and city roll back their tax rates to what’s known as “revenue neutral” (meaning they still raise the same total amount of property tax revenue, but reapportion the tax burden among property owners), that owner of a $384,000 home would still see a $393 increase in their bill. That’s a 17% hike.

If the city and county both raise their tax rates by a penny for every $100 of assessed value, that would tack on another $77. The CMS building plan would require an additional penny increase, which would be $38 a year.

The total tax increase on that house would then be $508 a year — a 22% bump.

The county said that by 2029, the tax increase needed to pay for the plan would rise to four cents. That would be another $114 a year.

People say they want new schools, better parks and improved city services like more police. But will local governments — and voters — be willing to swallow that tax hike?


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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.