Mecklenburg commissioners get preview of budget hearing and vote

Mecklenburg County commissioners got a preview of what Thursday’s straw vote on the proposed budget could look like during an overview Tuesday of what County Manager Dena Diorio is recommending.

The overview came on the eve of Wednesday’s public hearing on the $1.6 billion proposed budget that leaves the county property-tax rate unchanged. About 52 percent goes to education and literacy programs.

But Diorio didn’t recommend funding a 2 percent raise for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees, saying the county isn’t responsible for pay hikes for state employees. Her budget does provide $5.3 million to raise the starting pay of county-paid CMS teachers by $2,000 a year, to $35,000.

Diorio said the board would look at matching a state pay raise for other county-funded teachers, but that discussion would come if state legislators approve a raise and after commissioners approve a final budget at next Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Diorio proposed that the county’s share of CMS’ operating budget be nearly $14 million more than it is in the current budget. The district asked for nearly $40 million more.

Yet most of Tuesday’s discussion focused on grants the county allocates to an array of nonprofits and cuts in transportation services requested by the Department of Social Services.

Budget Director Michael Bryant told commissioners that 13 nonprofits that requested grant money didn’t make the proposed budget because they didn’t meet a variety of requirements. They included the Urban League, Levine Senior Center, Junior Achievement and the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation.

Diorio proposed that DSS get about $350,000 of its $650,000 request to sustain transportation services – however abbreviated – for senior citizens and people with disabilities to get to doctor appointments, treatments, senior centers, educational programs, shopping and adult day care.

Recently, the state took away about $300,000 in state rural grants that helped pay for the program after classifying Mecklenburg as 98 percent urban.

Diorio recommended cutting transportation for 40 senior citizens who aren’t disabled and limiting services for others.

“We subsidized the services this year, but now we have to consider whether we need to be in this business at all,” she said after the meeting. “It’s not a cost-effective service any more.”

Commissioner Bill James said the service has been abused through county vans taking senior citizens to eat. He said some seniors need the service to “go to a doctor’s appointment, but they don’t need it to be taken to McDonald’s.”

Commissioner George Dunlap said the county ought to look into “outsourcing” the service, adding there ought to be a company “who can run the service on $350,000.”

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County budget hearing

Mecklenburg County will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2015-16 budget starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth Street. Read the budget proposal at http://bit.ly/1cLoh75