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Mecklenburg commissioners pass budget with tax hike. Here’s where the money will go.

Mecklenburg County commissioners approved a nearly $2 billion budget that includes a tax hike for most property owners that was proposed by County Manager Dena Diorio (right).
Mecklenburg County commissioners approved a nearly $2 billion budget that includes a tax hike for most property owners that was proposed by County Manager Dena Diorio (right). dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday approved a budget that increases pay for teachers and provides more money for parks, but also raises taxes for most property owners.

In an 8-1 vote, commissioners passed a nearly $2 billion budget.

The tax increase sets the county’s tax rate at 61.69 cents per $100 of assessed value.

That’s about 2 cents higher than the revenue neutral rate, or the rate needed for the county to bring in the same amount of money as the last budget. The result is that the owner of a home that saw a property tax valuation increase from $250,000 to roughly $351,000 — about a 40% increase — would pay about $107 more in taxes, according to county figures.

Taxes are likely to rise for most property owners because land values in Mecklenburg County have risen sharply in years.

The county has said it anticipates that taxes will go up on 65% of residential properties. Taxes for more than 70% of commercial properties will be higher, the county has said previously.

The budget appeared to reflect the new political direction of the board.

Democrats won all nine commission seats in November for the first time in more than 50 years. Three Republicans, who often urged restraint in spending, lost seats.

Newly-elected commissioners had campaigned on promises to increase spending for issues such as affordable housing and parks. The spending represents a 9.1% increase over last year.

“Today is a good day,” said Commissioner Elaine Powell, who was elected in November. “I know this is a transformational budget.”

Commissioner Pat Cotham cast the lone dissenting vote.

Cotham said she supported much of what was included in the budget, but objected to how the budget was negotiated.

She has questioned whether officials violated state open meetings law because they discussed changes to the budget in phone calls and emails outside of public view in the days leading to a May public meeting about the county’s spending priorities.

“We were not alerting the people, alerting the media about the changes that were selected,” Cotham said.

Commissioners Chairman George Dunlap defended the process and said that no laws were violated. Other commissioners suggested their deliberations on the budget were open and transparent.

The budget gives a $50 million funding increase for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, meaning the district will get $534 million. That includes $8 million to supplement pay for CMS teachers, making them the highest paid in North Carolina, the county said.

Still, the allocation represents $20 million less than the CMS requested for its needs.

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said she wished the county could have offered more to CMS, but officials did not want to make cuts to other areas in the budget.

County leaders will also spend more than $22 million on affordable housing, a $15 million increase over last year.

Multiple reports show Charlotte needs 34,000 units of affordable housing to meet the demand. Commissioners said a new rental subsidy program included in the budget could help ease the problem that has vexed officials for years.

County officials put more money in the budget for parks. They agreed to spend $54.3 million, an increase of almost $16 million in a county often maligned as one of the worst in the country for park space.

The additional money will pay for 58 new positions for parks.

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