Crime budget spurs debate

Mecklenburg County commissioners supported giving more money to fight crime during a meeting on the budget Tuesday, but fell into tense partisan debate over how much should be spent.

Commissioners are scheduled to adopt a budget Tuesday.

The latest proposal would devote about $2 million for new court staff and other crime-related initiatives, such as electronic monitoring devices for criminals and security for county parks. That doesn't include increases for the sheriff's department and other crime programs.

But the plan offers less money than proposals by both County Manager Harry Jones and Republican commissioners – and spends some of it in different ways.

Jones' budget proposal called for $1 million for new court staff and other needs. He also recommended commissioners put $3 million in new revenue into a restricted fund to implement recommendations from a new crime task force.

Republican Dan Bishop proposed putting the $4 million identified by Jones, plus $1 million taken from employee compensation toward the crime task force recommendations. That motion failed, also along party lines.

The plan tentatively approved Tuesday would keep the $1 million for court initiatives. But commissioners would use only a third of the remaining $3 million for crime efforts, and split the rest among Central Piedmont Community College and several community agencies.

Bishop criticized the board's Democrats for spending most of the money on social programs, and for not devoting any money toward the crime task force recommendations. “That's the response ... to all that we've heard from the public about crime,” he said. “Nothing seems to surprise me any more, but that is shocking.”

Democrat Parks Helms said the county does spend millions on public safety programs, including paying for jails and the Sheriff's Office. But, he said, “we are not in the crime-fighting business, we are in the human services business.”

Commissioners Chairman Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat who first proposed a crime task force, said commissioners will be able to use the citizen group's ideas to influence future legislative requests and next year's budget talks.

Among other items included in the new budget proposal: $800,000 for CPCC, which would bring the school's budget to $1.8 million more than this year; $214,000 for a pre-natal health clinic, and about $281,000 to hire new school nurses.

The proposal offers no additional money for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The district would receive about $351 million next year in the county plan, about $18 million less than CMS leaders requested.

Superintendent Peter Gorman said Tuesday night that he has asked staff to suggest ways to cut 8 percent from department budgets. He said that, as much as he would like to keep cuts from affecting instruction, “it simply can't be done” given the budget realities.

Staff Writer Eric Frazier contributed.