Mecklenburg County commissioners have voted to terminate a contract with the City of Charlotte for police coverage in the county's unincorporated areas. They hope Tuesday night’s unanimous vote will persuade the city to let Huntersville and other towns police areas outside their town limits.
Huntersville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Phillips told county commissioners his son had a minor wreck last week in a parking lot at McGuire Nuclear Station, off N.C. 73. That's outside the town limits, where CMPD is supposed to respond.
“It took CMPD three hours to come out. And so this is a service issue,” Phillips said.
Those services are outlined in a contract adopted in the mid-1990s with the merger of the Mecklenburg County and Charlotte police departments. It created a special police district tax to pay for coverage outside Charlotte and the county's six towns – which now is home to 60,000 people.
In the 1990s, there weren’t many calls to those areas. After two decades of growth, that's changed. These days, Huntersville police handle about one-fifth of the calls outside its town limits, in what’s known as the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ.
But Charlotte gets all the taxes, said county commissioner Jim Puckett, a Huntersville resident.
“It is unfair to the town of Huntersville and it is unfair to the police officers of Huntersville Police Department to have to take 21 percent of the calls in an area that they do not get funded for,” Puckett said.
The issue isn't so big for most of the county’s other towns. But Huntersville is larger - and growing. Its population tripled in the past 15 years, to about 53,000. And nearly 2,400 residents now live in Huntersville’s ETJ.
Puckett said the county and city have been negotiating an update to the agreement for about three years. But the talks are at an impasse. He thinks that’s because of the $16 million a year Charlotte gets from the police tax.
County Manager Dena Diorio said the county has had trouble getting details on how the money is spent.
If it were separated out, Huntersville's share would be about $3 million, money Police Chief Cleveland Spruill would like to get.
“Huntersville Police Department is in a much better position to provide high-level quality police services in the extraterritorial jurisdiction than Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is,” he said. “If you sat down and talked with [CMPD] Chief [Kerr] Putney, he would agree to that. So it's really come down to a numbers game, a money game.”
There is a precedent: Two years ago after lengthy negotiations, CMPD turned over patrols on Lake Norman to Cornelius Police Department.
This week’s vote means the city-county contract will end June 30, 2018. That gives the county time come up with a new policing plan – and to keep negotiating.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners suggested the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department could take over some of those policing duties. Some of the towns, including Huntersville, are ready to handle their own ETJs.
Charlotte officials had little to say Wednesday. In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “The City of Charlotte continues to have discussions on this matter and is working together with Mecklenburg County to determine the next steps.”
The Charlotte City Council will discuss the issue at its meeting Monday.
April 18, 2017, text of the Mecklenburg County Commission resolution, which passed unanimously.
April 18, 2017, presentation on the police budget delivered to the commission
April 19, 2017, CharMeck.org, "County Commission Votes to Explore New Policing Options," with link to meeting video.