Fuller: Mecklenburg economy strong, so keep tax rate steady

Weeks before Mecklenburg County commissioners are set to meet for their yearly budget retreat, Chairman Trevor Fuller said Wednesday the county’s economy is strong enough that he will urge the board not to touch the property tax rate.

Delivering his second State of the County address, Fuller said unemployment in Mecklenburg had dropped 2 percentage points to 5.4 percent since he gave last year’s address. That figure is the lowest in more than five years, he said.

There are other reasons for the optimistic picture.

Mecklenburg added 21,600 jobs during that span, 3,900 more jobs than last year – an 8 percent increase, Fuller said.

The county, he said, will meet or exceed its projected amount of overall revenue and revenue collected from sales taxes. Meantime, property and sales tax collections continue to grow.

“People are going back to work. New construction is happening everywhere you look. Homes are being bought and small businesses are opening again,” Fuller told a nearly full government chambers. “For the second year in a row, I am pleased to report that I will be urging my colleagues to adopt a budget that has no increase in our tax rate.”

The board will hold its budget retreat Feb. 26-27.

During his hourlong speech, Fuller provided updates on:

• Efforts to end veteran homelessness by December. The program is well past the halfway point of its goal to find homes for 204 veterans in Mecklenburg. As of Wednesday, 121 veterans had homes, Fuller said.

• The board’s work to define when it should offer economic development incentive grants to businesses. He used the address to endorse the grants: “These incentives programs are good for us because they help increase jobs in our community and allow us to generate additional tax revenue for the county that we otherwise would not receive,” he said.

•  Devising a facilities master plan aimed at taking human services to those who need them.

Mecklenburg’s rebounding economy no doubt will spur some commissioners to push for tax cuts. Republican commissioners Matthew Ridenhour and Jim Puckett said they will look for breaks when the budget is presented later this year by County Manager Dena Diorio.

“When times are good and we’re flush with cash, we have all this excess money to spend on services and programs,” Ridenhour said. “The end result is that taxpayers never see a tax break. I think when times are good and we have the opportunity to relieve the burden on taxpayers, we have a responsibility to do so.”

Puckett said he was delighted to hear Fuller proposing no increase. “I think cuts where they are needed and rational, they ought to be investigated,” he said.

Diorio and Democratic commissioner Dumont Clarke, the board’s vice chairman, said they didn’t think there’d be enough votes to cut taxes. Diorio said people told her overwhelmingly last year to keep the rate the same. “I don’t expect it to be any different this year,” she said.

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