Politics & Government

Mecklenburg County budget plan includes higher taxes. Here’s how much it would cost.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio on Thursday announced a nearly $2 billion budget plan that would raise taxes for the vast majority of property owners.

At a Board of Commissioners meeting, Diorio unveiled recommendations that would give pay raises to teachers and county government workers, offer affordable housing for the poor and provide more money to send children to preschool.

But the majority of county property owners would have to dig deeper in their pockets to pay their tax bills.

Under the proposal, the taxes on 65 percent of residential properties would increase, according to the county.

Taxes for more than 70 percent of commercial properties — typically businesses — would be higher, the county said.

Residents won’t get their tax bills until July, but Diorio’s proposal offers the first glimpse into the costs they could face since officials announced earlier this year new tax values for property countywide.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has proposed a budget that would raise taxes for most county property owners. Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Diorio’s plan would set the tax rate at 61.69 cents per $100 of assessed value. That’s about 2 cents higher than the revenue neutral rate, or the rate needed for the county to bring in the same amount of money as the last budget.

It means the owner of a home that saw a property tax valuation increase from $250,000 to roughly $351,000 — about a 40 percent increase — would pay about $107 more in taxes, the county said.

Diorio told reporters that she tried to strike a balance between addressing needs identified by residents and politicians and the prospects of bigger tax bills.

“This was a sweet spot,” Diorio said. “We created investments and did not create hardships.”

Disagreements likely

But Diorio’s budget recommendations are likely to spark vigorous debate.

Neighborhoods near uptown Charlotte have seen residential property values shoot up as much as 300 percent since 2011, according to an Observer analysis. That would mean a significantly higher tax bill under the budget plan.

The median increase for residential property values was 43 percent. The median increase for commercial property was 77 percent.

Residents and social justice activists fear that higher property taxes could accelerate displacement in rapidly-changing areas such as Biddleville, Optimist Park and Cherry that were once primarily home to African-Americans or the poor, but now attract white young professionals and families with higher incomes.

County commissioners will have final say over the budget. A final vote is scheduled for next month.

On Thursday, some commissioners said that overall they were happy with Diorio’s budget plan. Commissioners Chairman George Dunlap pumped his fist in celebration as Diorio described $3.3 million that would go toward establishing a small-business micro loan program.

But commissioners said they needed time to study the details.

Commissioner Pat Cotham said she anticipates the proposal will draw criticism because it recommends a $50 million funding increase for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, significantly less than the $70 million the district requested.

The plan would provide $8 million to supplement pay for CMS teachers, making them the highest paid in North Carolina, the county said.

But some commissioners want to offer CMS their full request, Cotham said.

“There are some trust issues” between the county and school district, she said. “We are going to need some accountability from CMS.”

Commissioner Elaine Powell said the county has to fill a void because the state has failed to provide adequate resources for schools.

“It’s important to be fiscally conservative, but it is also important to fund education,” Powell said.

In a written statement to the Observer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said: “CMS is reviewing the proposed FY2020 Mecklenburg County budget and looks forward to continuing collaboration on investments for our community’s students.”

Higher spending

Diorio’s recommendations would raise the county’s spending by $158 million, or about 9 percent.

“We had to respond to the priorities of the communities,” she said. “Those things come at a cost.”

Government workers would also benefit.

Mecklenburg County employs more than 5,500 people – from lifeguards and social workers to librarians.

The budget would set aside $15 million to provide one-time 5.5 percent across-the-board raise for all county employees.

Diorio said the county has had trouble retaining employees because its salaries were not competitive enough.

Commissioner Mark Jerrell said he was pleased with the recommendations, but would take into account concerns raised by residents in the coming days.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 9.

“Most people will feel good about why” the increased spending is needed, Jerrell said. “People want to know where their money is going. Is it effective?”