Mecklenburg County Commissioners quickly agreed on a budget Thursday that does not include a property tax increase. It’s exactly the same as the one the county manager proposed. Most of the commissioners' discussion was about how there wasn’t more discussion.
It took all of thirty minutes for the commission to agree on a budget. It would have taken just a few minutes had Commissioner Pat Cotham not suggested they hash things out.
“I just think we’re going to look like the jury that came back in two seconds,” said Cotham.
Chairman Trevor Fuller said they’d had a lot of discussion over the past few months.
“Well, what would you propose we hash out?” asked Fuller.
“Well, I guess I would like to listen. I mean, certainly I’d like to talk more about teachers and teacher pay,” responded Cotham.
The county manager’s budget does not include money to give all CMS employees a raise. But if state lawmakers end up boosting salaries by 2 percent, there is enough money in the plan to match that raise for all locally-funded positions. Those funds would be held in a reserve. If state lawmakers approve a bigger a raise, the county could dip into its fund balance to come up with more money.
Commissioner Bill James said that’s the right way to go.
“I think the idea that there’s not going to be a raise and that therefore we should jump in and do it…I wouldn’t be in favor of that because I don’t want to take over the state’s responsibility,” said James.
Cotham pointed out Mecklenburg County picks up a lot of things that are the state’s responsibility, for example, assistant district attorneys. Plus, the county does supplement teacher salaries.
Fuller would like to increase that supplement by asking voters in November to approve a quarter cent sales tax. Most of that would go toward boosting the pay of all CMS employees. But that didn’t come up much yesterday. Instead, most commissioners agreed with James that the county manager proposed a good budget.
“It’s got something for everybody,” said James. “If you want to support teachers, okay, you’ve got $7.5 million in it for that. If you want to support the homeless, it’s got money in it for that. If you want to support parks, extra money for that...extra money for libraries. And yet the tax rate stays the same.”
The budget would give CMS everything it asked for except the raises, increase funding to parks and recreation by more than 7 percent. It would also give the library system enough money for all branches to open six days a week and provide funds to put a nurse in every public school.
Commissioners will adopt a budget next Tuesday. They’ll also vote then on whether to put the quarter cent sales tax before voters in November.