Mecklenburg County commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said Tuesday he wants the county to create programs that he says will help fill 8,000 jobs at local companies in the next 18 months.
In his third State of the County address, he also pushed for the county to begin work on offering universal pre-kindergarten to children ages 5 and under no matter their family’s financial condition.
Fuller, who is running for re-election in the March 15 primary, described the “Putting People to Work Initiative” as a plan to fill entry-level jobs at private firms by offering the unemployed new training opportunities and an array of job retention services.
His idea focuses on 8,000 jobs because that’s the number of job vacancies employers reported to Charlotte Works, a nonprofit workforce development agency, he said. He named 10 organizations the county plans to join with, including UNC Charlotte and the Charlotte Chamber, to offer new job training programs and partner with employers who will hire people who finish the training.
Fuller said officials have not yet determined costs for the program.
Some commissioners bristled after Fuller’s message, saying they had not heard about his proposals before Tuesday. Republican commissioner Matthew Ridenhour on Twitter called it “disrespectful,” while commissioner Pat Cotham, a fellow Democrat, said it was “disappointing.”
“It’s kind of insulting,” Cotham said. “He’s not the president. He’s chairman.”
Most of Fuller’s address focused on the county’s milestones from last year, including a lower unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, housing more than 340 homeless veterans and debuting new green spaces, such as First Ward Park.
But he said the county still needs to resolve gaps in economic opportunity – a banner issue for commissioners since the release of a 2014 study showing Charlotte’s poor children have the worst chances of any in the country’s 50 biggest cities of escaping poverty.
“It has taken many years to get where we are, so change is not likely to happen overnight,” Fuller said. “All of this economic activity will be for naught unless we are making sure people are actually getting jobs.”
Fuller said offering pre-K to all 60,000 children 5 and under in the county could curb poverty. He said he wants to introduce universal pre-K in three phases over the next three to five years.
It’s been done in other places; there’s no reason Mecklenburg County can’t do it.
Mecklenburg County commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller
The first phase would include forming a team to figure out costs, timing and ways to increase capacity at child care centers, he said. The county would also seek support from local and national foundations, state lawmakers, and nonprofits and businesses, he said.
For the first time, Republican commissioners issued a response after Fuller’s address. During a news conference, they lobbied for a 1-cent reduction in the county tax rate, changes to how the county funds Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the formation of a “council of faith” – an assembly of church leaders who address needs in the community so people rely less on government services.
Ridenhour said the board’s Republicans wanted to relay their own philosophy, which doesn’t always align with the majority of the board.
Commissioner Jim Puckett, who proposed what items should be in a CMS bond package, said Fuller’s plans for pre-K sound expensive but he was glad they don’t include plans for a tax increase.
“It’s ambitious,” he said. “If it’s something we can do and show results ... I have no problem with it.”