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Cabarrus commissioner appointee blames the board he’ll join for ‘explosion of expenditures’

By Lisa Thornton
Correspondent

New Cabarrus County Commissioner Jason Oesterreich doesn’t like Big Government, and the way he sees it, it’s seeped into Cabarrus County during the past decade, especially in matters involving county tax money.

Speaking at the Aug. 8 meeting where the county Republican Party would appoint someone to fill a vacated county commissioner seat, Oesterreich blamed the board of commissioners – all fellow Republicans – for what he called “an explosion of government and governmental expenditures” in the past decade.

Now he’s been appointed to the board he criticized.

Nor was that the only time he spoke out about board. Last year, Oesterreich, a lawyer specializing in commercial real estate transactions, called out board members on property revaluations he said were too high.

“I felt like at that time the board was artificially keeping housing prices high so that they could keep tax revenue high,” he said.

Oesterreich, 35, won the majority vote of the Cabarrus County Republican Party’s executive committee during the Aug. 8 meeting at the Cabarrus County Governmental Center. N.C. law requires the county commissioners to appoint the executive committee’s selection.

“In 2003, our total expenditures were $125 million.. Ten years later, in 2012, they were $262 million,” said Oesterreich. “The Big Government commissioners funded this expenditure increase by raising the property tax rate 25 percent and increasing the sales tax.”

According to Deputy County Manager Pam Dubois, the county’s total actual spending for fiscal 2003 was $128.7 million. By fiscal 2012, that actual spending was $200.3 million. The county also adopted a quarter-cent sales tax increase during that time, as the state reduced its sales tax.

Raising taxes is a ploy that builds security for politicians at election time, Oesterreich said. “Government grows like this because politicians realized some time ago that if they hand out our tax money, they can buy votes and make people dependent on them.”

For the past two years, Oesterreich has regularly attended Board of Commissioners meetings, signing his name on the speakers list to question, in person, the board’s position on everything from last year’s property revaluation to the county’s recent swell in surplus revenue.

“Last year they raised the tax rate 10 percent, even though they’ve had about $25 million in surplus revenue over the two years before that,” said Oesterreich, who accused some board members of taking a Chicken Little approach.

In adopting the fiscal 2013 budget, Dubois said, the commissioners raised the tax rate from 63 cents to 70 cents per $100 assessed property value, an 11.1 percent increase. But the surplus as of June 30, 2012, was $15.66 million.

“Some of the commissioners were saying, ‘We’re going to have devastating cuts if we don’t raise taxes.’ When you essentially have $11.5 million surplus over the last two years, you’re not going to have to cut those things,” said Oesterreich. “I felt like somebody needed to come in and point that out to them.”

Commissioner Stephen Morris, who was elected to the board last year and attended the special meeting Aug. 8, said criticism aside, he’d work with anybody who is pro-business.

“The most important thing is somebody that understands the economic situation in the county,” said Morris, “that’s interested in increasing capital investment and jobs.”

Oesterreich was chosen from seven people nominated by executive committee members for the vacant commissioner seat. The others included a farmer, a theologian, a former mayor and a lawyer endorsed by more than two dozen members of the business community through a letter to the committee.

He’ll fill the seat left vacant by Jay White, a lawyer and partner at Hartsell & Williams P.A. in Concord. White resigned last month due to his concerns that the law firm’s bid to provide legal services to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services would pose a conflict of interest.

White served seven years on the board, including five as chairman and one as vice chairman.

Oesterreich will finish the remaining 14 months of White’s term. Voters will elect someone to fill the next four-year term in the November 2014 election.

“It was really a tough decision,” said Olynda Walker, an executive committee member and the recording secretary for the Cabarrus County GOP. “We had a lot of really good candidates.”

Other commissioner nominees, such as Tom White, 47, a Concord resident who works at Bank of America, and Brook McGowan, the Carolinas director for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, said they hoped Oesterreich continues to hold the commissioners accountable.

“Jason has been very involved with the (board of commissioners),” Tom White said. “He’s attended a lot of meetings. He’s very good with numbers. He can rattle them off. So a lot of the stuff that he said he would like to change, I would expect for him to follow through with that.”

McGowan said, “I trust that Jason will follow through with the things that he’s been trying to do so far, and that’s hold the commissioners’ feet to the fire with the budget.”

A native of California, Oesterreich brought his family to North Carolina after he became increasingly unhappy with the politics of his home state. A lawyer, he has chosen to be a stay-at-home dad to his and his wife, Tanya’s, children, ages 1 and 3.

“My wife and I looked around and saw what Big Government was doing in California, and we wanted to go somewhere that reflected better family values for us,” he said.

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at lisathornton@carolina.rr.com.
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