Commissioners raise pay of county-paid CMS employees to state’s level

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees paid by Mecklenburg County will get the same raise as their state-paid colleagues after county commissioners voted Wednesday to give CMS $12.2 million for the salary boost.

In their budget approved in June, commissioners set aside $7.3 million that would provide a 3 percent pay raise for county-funded teachers, awaiting a decision from state legislators on what raise state-funded teachers would receive.

After those teachers were given an average 7 percent raise, CMS requested an additional $4.9 million so the salaries of more than 2,800 county-paid employees – 1,000 of them teachers – would get the same levels of pay increases.

Commissioners approved the extra appropriation by a 7-1 vote. Commissioners Vilma Leake, recuperating from surgery, and George Dunlap were absent.

The extra $4.9 million will come from a portion of money left over after the county closed MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare, which oversaw Medicaid for mental health services, and paid off claims and bills. Since it will be a one-time payment, it will leave a $4.9 million hole for next year’s budget, County Manager Dena Diorio said.

She said she’ll look for ways to minimize the gap before the next budget is debated.

Commissioner Bill James cast the only no vote, saying he was concerned that CMS had a “second bite of the apple” when no other agency that relies on county funding did. He said the board should have been able to better predict the level of pay raises legislators were going to provide and put that amount of money in contingency.

“It’s not good fiscal policy to reopen the budget, it’s not good fiscal policy to single out one group for a reward and not others,” James said.

But several commissioners, including Chairman Trevor Fuller, Pat Cotham, Karen Bentley and Matthew Ridenhour, said the board told CMS that once the legislature decided on raises for state-funded teachers, the commission would revisit the issue for county-funded CMS employees.

“We effectively made a promise when we passed the budget that we would match whatever the state did,” Fuller said. “... I don’t think it was irresponsible the way we did it. We understood that (the contingency) would likely not be enough.”

Referendum information on website

Diorio also told commissioners that she planned to provide on the county’s website “factual information” about the November referendum to raise Mecklenburg’s sale tax by a quarter-cent. The item on the November ballot only asks voters if they are for or against raising the sales tax.

It doesn’t say what it’s for.

Diorio said the website link will include a policy set by the board that 80 percent of the extra revenue would go to CMS. Central Piedmont Community College and the Arts & Science Council would each get 7.5 percent – with the balance going to the public library. CMS and CPCC plan to use the extra money for teacher pay increases.

“It will be educational in nature and will not constitute advocacy,” she said. She said the link will also tell voters that the board policy is not binding and could be changed by a later commission.