Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials have a problem. They operate a growing district with an aging infrastructure. They need money to build new facilities and tend to old ones.
Most every year, the district approaches the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners with a sizable budget request. Most every year, commissioners chastise CMS for wanting too much or contributing too little.
So this year, CMS came up with a plan to contribute more. On Tuesday, it got punished for doing so.
At issue is 3.7 acres at the northeast corner of Sedgefield Middle School. CMS has the title to the land, which at this point is green space. Last year, the district decided to sell it and more than 20 other parcels to raise money toward the $2 billion in anticipated capital projects over the next decade.
Good, sensible asset management, right?
CMS even has a buyer for the land – Pulte Homes, which is willing to pay $3.85 million. Pulte would like to use the property for townhomes. And that’s where the CMS plan has unraveled.
Sedgefield Middle’s neighbors don’t want townhomes – or pretty much anything – on that property. That’s not an unreasonable notion. Charlotte has precious little green space but no shortage of development, especially close to uptown. We think it’s good city or county policy to preserve as much of that green as is practical.
But that’s not – and shouldn’t be – CMS policy. The district has land to sell and money to raise, which is what the county wants. Except now, the county doesn’t.
On Tuesday, commissioners bowed to the pressure from Sedgefield neighbors and voted to ask CMS not to sell the land. If CMS decides to sell anyway, the county will exercise its right of first refusal and buy the property. Then it will punish CMS by subtracting the purchase price from the $33 million it had planned to give the district for capital projects.
That means CMS will get no value from the land it owns. So much for sensibility.
If commissioners were concerned about green space, they could have voted last year to buy the land from CMS and leave it unused. They still could do so now, without grabbing the money back from CMS.
But, says District 6 commissioner Bill James, the county thinks it would be paying for the land a second time. Local government – most likely the county – purchased the land for school use long ago, but CMS got the title to it, as state law dictates.
That means CMS is the legal owner of the property. It’s not a technicality, and it’s not “weird,” as James believes. It’s the law.
But because the county controls the purse strings for CMS capital projects, it essentially controls everything CMS owns. Now, the county has decided the value of that land to CMS is zero. Commissioners could decide the same about similar patches of properties CMS wants to sell near Myers Park High School, Olde Providence and other schools.
All of which puts us back where we started. CMS perpetually needs funds for new buildings and old. The county perpetually resists. Now, the district has one less way to raise money, and commissioners have one less excuse not to provide it.