Last year about this time, Cabarrus County Commissioners were at odds, which made planning for the future a challenge.
Former commissioners Larry Burrage, Chris Measmer and Jason Oesterreich were at odds with commissioners Liz Poole and Steve Morris over several budget issues.
Those three commissioners passed a budget that included several cuts to programs and services. They later ran for another term and lost, and the newly-elected board reinstated a majority of those cuts.
This year, at the commissioners’ March 23 planning retreat, the tone was different. Some commissioners said the retreat helped them re-connect with the county’s vision, mission, goals and initiatives.
Several discussions took place throughout the daylong retreat, but commissioners focused on three areas: transportation, connection and mobility; programs, funding and services; and planning, growth and economic development.
Retreat leaders will use input from the retreat to make a document that helps guide the board of commissioners and staff as they make plans for the coming year. Findings from the retreat will be out later this year.
Morris described the retreat as a strategic opportunity that encouraged board members to brainstorm big-picture solutions.
“Last year at this time, we were consumed by controversy, disagreement and decisions were guided by what would draw the greatest attention to re-election campaigns rather than what was best for the future of the county,” Morris said. “This year … there has been a sincere desire to understand the issues and explore solutions ... the fear of attack does not exist.”
The board’s focus will be cooperation, communication and collaboration between the county and local municipalities, Morris said.
“We have to work together to maximize the benefits for our residents from the state and federal dollars we receive,” Morris said. “The benefits of this retreat were the discussion and understanding of the challenges we face so that we can factor those issues into our planning.”
The county also needs to find money for new schools to accommodate growth, Morris said.
“I believe that every member of our board recognizes the importance of our economic development efforts to broaden our tax base and create new jobs as one of solutions to financing our growth,” Morris said. “We have already increased funding and support for those efforts and expect to be able to make some positive announcements soon.”
Commissioner Grace Mynatt said the retreat allowed the board to discuss the needs and direction of the county as well as its relationship with other entities.
This planning effort will help the county move forward more efficiently in responding to the community’s desire to restore programs and services and address infrastructure needs, Mynatt said.
“This year’s board of commissioners retreat reflected the U-turn made through the election and addition of three new members last year,” Mynatt said. “The atmosphere of the retreat was one of cooperation and respectful planning.
“Staff was eager to get direction as they go into their departmental planning meetings and annual budget preparation. Commissioners were willing to discuss issues and come to consensus in order to provide that direction clearly.”