Inside County Government

On schools, elections and greenways: What to expect from Mecklenburg County in 2016

The uptown Charlotte skyline is illuminated in the background as holiday lights burn for first time in First Ward Park on Dec. 8, 2015.
The uptown Charlotte skyline is illuminated in the background as holiday lights burn for first time in First Ward Park on Dec. 8, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

First, a disclaimer: I can’t tell the future.

But I can offer a heads up on some possible Mecklenburg County news in 2016 – a big election year for commissioners who want to keep a seat around the dais.

Take a look at what’s coming:

More parks, trails and greenways

Mecklenburg unashamedly touts its resurgent parks building boom – First Ward Park in uptown being among its crowning achievements in 2015. Expect the same pomp in 2016.

▪ The Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center’s $9.3 million renovation will be done in time for the May SwimMAC Arena Pro Swim Series.

▪ Construction begins on several long-awaited projects, including the completion of the Little Sugar Creek and Toby Creek greenways.

▪ New shelters will go up in neighborhood parks and at least three new greenways – Briar Creek, Irwin Creek and Campbell Creek – are expected to open.

But let’s not forget residents in Charlotte’s Plaza-Eastway corridor, who have waited 12 years for the county to finish their regional park and recreation center. They haven’t gotten it yet, but renewed attention to the delay in 2015 spurred neighbors to voice their frustrations and pressure leaders before the upcoming budget season.

County and schools talk it out?

Commissioners are planning a face-to-face with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board to discuss, among others things, how much money they give schools each year.

Tension between the two boards has percolated for weeks now because commissioners say they’re tired of taking the heat when CMS’ exact funding requests go unfulfilled. The county devotes nearly 50 percent of its yearly budget to education, yet there’s sentiment that commissioners don’t give enough to the schools.

To cool tempers, commissioners in November proposed a meeting with the school board to hash out differences. It hasn’t happened yet but, before the holidays, County Manager Dena Diorio said she was working to nail down a time that works best for both groups.

Campaigning is coming

Incumbents will be in for a fight ahead of the March 15 primary:

▪ District 6 commissioner Bill James, who has served on the board for nearly 20 years, will battle fellow Republican Joel Levy, a TIAA-CREF executive running on an anti-toll lanes platform.

▪ Vilma Leake, elected to the District 2 seat in 2008, will face Democrats Angela Edwards, a community advocate, and Lula Dualeh, former third vice chair for the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party.

▪ The board’s three at-large commissioners, all Democrats, will defend their posts from the Rev. Damiko Faulkner, a Presbyterian pastor.

▪ And Democratic Register of Deeds David Granberry, first elected in 2008, will face Fred Smith.

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