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Meck budget plan would hike tax rate 2.5 cents

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  • Harry Jones severance: $263,599
  • 'Dysfunction 101' back in session
  • Jones’ severance package: $263,599

    Mecklenburg County has agreed to pay former County Manager Harry Jones a severance package totaling $263,599.46, a county spokesman said Tuesday. Details of the package were not immediately available.

    Under his contract, Jones will receive six months’ salary and benefits as part of a severance package because the termination was made without cause.

    Jones’ base salary was $246,138. His total compensation was $297,795 for the past year. Staff reports



Interim Mecklenburg County Manager Bobbie Shields recommended a 2.5-cent tax rate hike Tuesday, largely to maintain current county services and help offset a shrinking tax base after the botched 2011 property revaluation.

If approved, the tax increase – the first in five years – would add $50 to the county tax bill for a home valued at $200,000.

The proposed $1.68 billion budget for 2013-14 would be a 17 percent increase over the county’s current $1.43 billion budget. Shields said much of the $225 million increase comes from state and federal Medicaid money to pay for mental health services through the county’s MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare.

Some commissioners have said they wouldn’t support a tax increase. But none expressed opposition after the presentation by Shields and Hyong Yi, the county’s budget director.

Shields said the proposed budget was built around keeping and sustaining current services, some of which have seen a growth in demand.

The proposed budget would increase money for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, pay for the completion and opening of the Romare Bearden Park uptown, keep libraries open longer and provide a 2-percent merit pay raise for county employees.

The budget recommendation was Shields’ first big duty after he was elevated to interim county manager two weeks ago, after the board fired longtime County Manager Harry Jones.

Tuesday, he worked to sell it to a board that includes four new members.

He touched on three main themes that he hoped the budget would address: Maintaining and strengthening county services, building partnerships and relationships in the community and supporting employees whom Shields said are “traumatized” by Jones’ firing and outside criticism.

Addressing the new members, Shields said adopting a budget “is a matter of weighing choices and consequences.”

“It’s an either/or decision,” he said. “We cannot maintain the current property tax rate and maintain current services or even address growth needs.”

Shrinking tax base

The budget talks come as county officials try to respond to criticisms of the flawed 2011 revaluation. The county said its tax base – which is key in figuring out how much money can be raised through taxes – will shrink by $1.9 billion as adjustments are made to thousands of overvalued properties.

The proposed budget doesn’t address refunds to overbilled property owners. Shields and Yi said refunds would likely come from the county’s fund balance.

“It’s worth emphasizing that we have a smaller tax base,” Yi said in an interview. “Even if Bobbie wasn’t proposing a 2.5-cent tax increase, if you want to fund the budget at the same level in 2014 as in 2013, he would need a higher tax rate simply because the tax base is shrinking.”

The proposed tax hike would essentially offset a 2.44-cent tax rate cut that commissioners gave property owners for the current year.

If they adopt the budget as Shields presented it, increased funding would include the following:

•  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which would get an increase of $21.3 million. School officials, however, had asked for a $28.5 million increase over the current budget, to expand classroom technology and magnet programs and help cover rising costs and enrollment growth.

•  Central Piedmont Community College, which would get $3 million more (an 11.2 percent increase), less than half the $6.4 million that college officials requested.

•  County services, which would get an $8.7 million increase. That includes homeless services ($1.3 million more), Park and Recreation ($966,000 more), school health nurses ($1.07 million more). The proposed budget would also give $1.8 million more to the tax assessor’s office, which came under fire for inflating property values and poor customer service during the revaluation controversy.

•  County payroll, which would increase by 2 percent, or $4.8 million more than the current budget provides.

Upcoming budget talks

Commissioners won’t vote on the budget until June. Judging from questions by commissioners after the presentation, it could end up looking vastly different.

Commissioner Bill James, a Republican who has said he’d be against a tax increase, said the proposed budget was not revenue-neutral.

“A revenue-neutral budget doesn’t include a tax increase,” James said.

In an interview, Shields said he expects resistance from commissioners on the tax rate hike, but he felt there’s sufficient justification for an increase “to maintain the current level of services.”

Yi said the budget is Shields’ proposal. But since the plan was well underway when Jones was fired, it has Jones’ influence.

“It should go without saying … we didn’t just walk in here and put this together,” Shields said. “You will see deviations from what Harry had in mind. If he were here, the outcome would be different.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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