Experience gives him perspective

Mike Downs began his 25-year career with Cabarrus County government as a zoning inspector and slowly moved up the ranks.

After former county manager John Day retired, Downs was named interim county manager Sept. 30. He had been deputy county manager for eight years and was director of development services and director of public safety services before that.

The Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners appointed Downs, 50, as county manager Nov. 21 during a closed meeting. He has lived in Mount Pleasant for 27 years.

Downs said his three main goals for his first year will be to deliver an acceptable budget proposal for the next fiscal year; to work with business leaders to pursue additional economic development; and to build stronger relationships with the community.

"With the new economy, there will be much more need for collaborative projects," said Downs. "I look forward to the opportunity to work with the varied groups and stakeholders in the community to ensure Cabarrus County continues to be recognized as a great place to live, work and play."

Cabarrus News asked Downs five questions to learn more about his role as county manager and how his having worked for the county for nearly three decades will benefit residents. His responses came via email.

Q. What are your key roles as county manager, and what is your biggest asset to the county?

"My role as county manager is to assist the Board of Commissioners with economic, educational and quality-of-life initiatives and implement the policies that they establish," said Downs. "I am charged with administering all of the departments under the ... control of the board ... while preparing the annual operating budget, the five-year financial plan and the capital improvement plan. I will be ... the liaison between our board and our employees, cities, towns and the general public.

"My biggest asset to Cabarrus County is that I am a hard-working, loyal, determined person who gives 110 percent to everything that I do.... My skills in collaboration and facilitation will be an asset to the county as we continue to look for community partners to provide needed services at a level that is expected and deserved by our citizens."

Q. What kinds of insights have come to you in working with the county for 25 years, and how will they benefit residents?

"What I have come to know is that whether (people) have lived in Cabarrus County all of their lives or recently moved here, their pride and passion for the county is tremendous.

"I have had the opportunity of traveling every road in the county many times for enforcement reasons, community planning meetings and responding for public safety purposes. I am very familiar with our various communities and their needs and expectations.

"Having this 'on the street' background will definitely give me a more comprehensive perspective of things when dealing with issues in my new role."

Q. You said one of your goals is to deliver an acceptable budget proposal for the next fiscal year. What is the state of the county's budget, and how and when do you plan to achieve that goal?

"The county is doing very well, considering the current economic challenges. This is (because) the Board of Commissioners and staff (approach) the budget in a very conservative manner each year. This conservative approach will be even more necessary (in the future).

"With the ... property revaluation process coming to an end and lower revenues expected, the fiscal year 2013 operating budget will be very important. Our board will hold a planning retreat in January to revise (and) update their goals and provide direction as to their plans for the upcoming years.

"After the retreat, with the board's vision in mind, I will begin to work with our departments to help finalize their budgets. I plan to have a completed draft of the recommended budget available for their review in May, with approval in June."

Q. What are a couple of your biggest challenges, and how will you address them?

"The economy will continue to be a challenge for the unforeseen future. We will have to find ways to maintain current service levels with potentially decreasing revenues. "Economic development is very important as well. The creation of a sustainable economy for Cabarrus County and our region must be a major focus. Positive efforts are ... in progress to bring in new industries, maintain and nurture existing companies, encourage the creation and support of local businesses and promote tourism.

"These efforts will need to move forward in a strategic manner and in partnership with our business community to make sure that we are not missing any opportunities to bring new jobs of all kinds to our county."

Q. You mentioned collaborating with the community to help address a leaner budget. What are some examples, and why are these types of partnerships beneficial?

"Collaboration with the cities, towns, nonprofit service providers and private businesses ... is a must. We are all facing similar challenges of providing services ... in the most cost-effective manner possible. It will be even more important in the coming years to see if there are any programs or services that can be consolidated, modified or enhanced by sharing our resources."