From Democrat Jennifer Roberts, chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners:
There are two critical issues before the county commission, and the new board to be sworn in Dec. 1 will find these are only the beginning of tough decisions ahead. I am confident our new board will approach these challenges thoughtfully.
The first issue is a revaluation of commercial and residential property values in Mecklenburg County. Many have interpreted this as a tax increase. In reality, it would be an increase for some, a decrease for others, and no change at all for a third group. Valuation is merely the way we measure the value of certain properties on which we collect taxes. With a market such as Mecklenburg's, these values change over time, and until this year that change had been mostly upward.
However, these are extremely volatile economic times. Some market values are falling, and although no one knows when they will hit the bottom, there will be uncertainty and distrust in any assessment that takes place in the middle of this crisis. In a time when many are losing their jobs and their homes, we can ill afford yet one more blow to people's pocketbooks. We know the number of appeals could be significant. It is for this reason that I have joined with those who oppose revaluation at this time, which may very soon be the unanimous opinion from our board.
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I regret that some will feel that their tax burdens are not fair. However, we look forward to a more stable time within the next year or two (when state law requires it) that we can accurately measure values that everyone will have confidence in.
The other issue is the county commission's instruction to the county manager to appoint a position, which he terms a Justice Accountability Director, to help oversee our criminal justice system. This recommendation from our citizen Public Safety Task Force has drawn much attention, and the arguments for and against it have been bipartisan. It illustrates the frustration our community feels at trying to improve safety for all our citizens when many of the professionals working within the system operate in silos, with separate funding sources and diffuse accountability that is difficult to measure.
I plan to ask the board to create a separate Committee on Public Safety and have it examine all 16 recommendations from the Citizen Task Force. We must work to implement as many as possible, and to sort through which are the most effective and feasible. The task force spent half a day each week for three months on this report, plus additional research and community meetings. Though this is not enough time to fully understand the complexities of the system, it is probably more time than many elected officials have spent recently in getting an overview of our system. We need to listen carefully to these suggestions and be bold in trying new ideas for improvement.
The new liaison position will help implement these recommendations as well. This position will not have the authority of a crime czar, which was a misnomer from the start. Without special legislation, the Board of Commissioners cannot create new authority. This director, who will report to the county, will instead attempt to reach across the silos that divide city, county, and state government and our various areas of responsibility. This director will shed light on the realities of our public safety challenges, working with those professionals who will continue to work in their various areas of expertise. If the position is implemented correctly, this director could support each official in our system and help them advocate with one voice for bold and effective reforms.
It will be a daunting task to try to break down the silos, get a more accurate overview of the system, and push departments for reform. But we asked the Citizens Task Force to bring back bold ideas for reform. I hope we can give this one a chance.