Commissioner makes suggestion for consolidation study
BALLANTYNE – With Mayor Anthony Foxx pushing for the consolidation of governments in Mecklenburg County, at least one local leader is saying now’s the time to seriously consider splitting Ballantyne off into its own town.
County Commissioner Bill James, whose District 6 covers Ballantyne, as well as Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill, said he would only consent to studying consolidation if one of two things happen: Ballantyne breaks off from Charlotte and it and other towns can purchase services from the city, or shrink the size of the county by lopping off northern and southern towns.
Foxx, along with County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, has pushed to consolidate governments and services in the county. Foxx says the move, which would potentially create one all-encompassing government and conglomerate select county services, would save money. But James and others worry such a move would leave Mecklenburg County towns footing more of the bill for services they’ll never use, especially when it comes to supporting areas of higher poverty in the city.
“Right now money gets sucked out of District 6 and spent in the inner city,” James said. While James doesn’t have exact numbers for what percentage of his district’s taxes make up overall city and county revenue, he says it’s pretty easy to see who’s footing the bill for services in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
“Fifty percent of the county’s budget is spent on (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) and since District 6 only receives $3,500 per student in funding and (inner-city schools) receive $12,000 per student it’s obvious there’s a huge disparity in the money that’s collected and what’s spent out here,” James said.
Splitting Ballantyne off of Charlotte could fix that issue, James said, as the new town would form its own government and provide its ownservices like a police department while residents would see a large drop in taxes.
“Ballantyne’s taxes would significantly drop… and they would be in control of their own destiny,” James said. “You want consolidation, Mayor Foxx, Ms. Roberts? OK, let my people go.”
The community would need to get the support of legislators in Raleigh to get such a shift accomplished. That doesn’t include the other problems involved with such a move – everything from where the boundary lines of the town would be drawn (James says possibly between Matthews and Pineville south of N.C. 51) to what the town would be called. “Ballantyne” is a trademark of the Bissell Companies, which runs the Ballantyne Corporate Park.
It’s a process that could take years.
James said he also would be in favor of shrinking the size of the county by giving Matthews and Mint Hill the option to leave Mecklenburg for Union County and the three northern Mecklenburg towns going to Iredell, Cabarrus or Lincoln counties.
The towns, under James’ plan, also would be able to “purchase” what services they need from the city if staying in Mecklenburg. For example, James said in an email to Roberts, “the CMS budget that would be allocated to Matthews would be based on the per unit money paid by CMS for each Matthews child (operating and capital). The per unit portion of welfare (food stamps, work first, etc.) would be based on the number of Matthews residents using those services. Since there is less poverty in the towns and since CMS spends a fraction on suburban children (than) what they pay for inner-city Charlotte children, taxes would drop significantly for town residents under such a plan and would go up significantly for city residents.”
The issue of towns supplementing the city was a main concern earlier this month when commissioners in Huntersville spoke out against consolidation.
“This is just a bad idea on all fronts,” Huntersville Commissioner Charlie Jeter said last week of consolidating governments. His board voted unanimously at its Dec. 19 meeting to oppose a study of consolidation.
Jeter, who penned a resolution against the study, said he wanted the town to be proactive in its opposition of such a study. Huntersville is the first town to publicly denounce the study, but several leaders from around the county have said they are skeptical of consolidation.
“Make no mistake,” Jeter said, “if (the county) moves forward on this, Huntersville tax dollars will be spent on Charlotte’s pet projects. There is a history of this, and if anyone says different they aren’t looking at past experiences.”
Jeter pointed to Charlotte Area Transit System spending and library funding as the past inequities.
This isn’t the first time Mecklenburg County has flirted with consolidation. There have been several fruitless studies over the past two decades, each with different viewpoints.
Jeter said he hopes this study won’t happen, but if it does and county commissioners decide to move forward with consolidation he would ask the town to fight it in court.
“If they move forward with this, I am going to ask we sue (Charlotte) and the county,” Jeter said. “It’s my job to protect Huntersville citizens, and I feel this is a colossally bad idea. We then have to look at all options, including litigation.”
Huntersville commissioners also took issue with how the study was being funded and how Foxx hadn’t let the towns in on his plan before he made the announcement.
The study would be paid for through a $150,000 grant from the Foundation for the Carolinas.
Huntersville Commissioner Sarah McAulay said she felt the money from a private nonprofit made it too easy for someone to funnel the cash for the study without having to give their name.
“It bothers me the study would be funded by an unknown being,” she said.
James says if Foxx and Roberts aren’t willing to consider his two options, he won’t support any study of consolidation. He said as much Dec. 13 in an email to Roberts, who had written to republicans on the commission wondering if they would support the county being part of the study.
“What I will not study (in any form) is consolidation that forces town residents to pay for services they do not use,” James wrote.
Warren Cooksey, who represents the Ballantyne area on Charlotte City Council, believes a full consolidation like what Foxx is shooting for is unlikely in part because “I don’t see any kind of citizen-led effort to promote consolidation,” Cooksey said, adding, “The more I look at it, the more I think true consolidation for the county just isn’t going to happen.”
If any kind of consolidation is to move forward, Cooksey said, it would likely be one where some city and county services are melded together and towns get to keep their governments. In this case, the only elected board to disappear would be Charlotte City Council and instead residents would vote on one city-county board. It’s unclear how many representatives south Charlotte residents would then have on such a board.
“As a Charlotte resident, not an elected official, when I hear Charlotte City Council goes away I don’t know really what the advantage is,” Cooksey, who lives in Ballantyne, said. “Charlotte would give up its municipal government yet residents of the six towns would not? From a Charlottean’s view, what’s the benefit of that?”
But even if the consolidation issue is dropped, James is still behind the idea of forming a town out of Ballantyne.
“I think changing the county boundaries is a Hail Mary proposal, but I do think forming the town of Ballantyne and allowing the town to control what services they purchase is not,” James said. “So, if the city of Charlotte and the mayor don’t like Option 1 (shrinking Mecklenburg), there’s also Option 2 (town of Ballantyne). Will they let my people go… will they be willing to give up that tax revenue?”
Such a split, James said, would be a “win-win for people in District 6.”
Do you have thoughts on the consolidation issue or Commissioner Bill James’ thoughts on a town of Ballantyne? Send a Letter to the Editor to editor@-thecharlotteweekly.com.