Locals up in arms over renewed consolidation talks

As Mayor Anthony Foxx continues his push to consolidate government and services in Mecklenburg County, those in south Charlotte say this is the perfect example of why more people need to get behind the idea of forming a new town out of the Ballantyne area.

Foxx has stated that the goal of consolidating governments and services in the county is to save taxpayers more money. It could create one all-encompassing government – instead of councils in Charlotte and the county’s six towns – and conglomerate select county services, which in theory would cut down on some of the redundancy of different groups in the county that already do the same thing.

Such a consolidation could result in one governmental board that county districts would elect representatives to.

But leaders in the county’s six towns – Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson in the north and Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville in the south – have been hesitant to jump on board with that plan, or have actively campaigned against it over the past year.

Late last month, a letter from Foxx went out to 25 specific community leaders asking them to sign a petition encouraging the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to support creating a commission that would study consolidation next year. The study would be paid for by the organization Foundation of the Carolinas.
Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones warned commissioners of the letter in an email on July 29 to prepare them for a possible petition supporting the study.

The letter, which was emailed to South Charlotte Weekly, reads in part, “In this era of incredible growth, Charlotte-Mecklenburg must respond to the increased demand for local government services. Therefore, it is essential that we explore ways to create a more navigable, comprehensive and accountable local government. The current climate of volatility at the state and federal levels makes it more critical than ever for us to be as coordinated and cohesive as possible with our resources. By creating a commission to study consolidation, our elected officials can demonstrate their commitment to exploring all options that may improve government accountability and effectiveness for Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s citizens.”

The study commission, as outlined in a resolution passed by Charlotte City Council last year, would be made up of 25 members appointed by the city and county who would ultimately make “a recommendation for or against governmental consolidation.”

The group would have six months to study the issue and prepare its report.

If the study recommends against consolidation, according to the December resolution, it would then be up to the city and county manager to complete a study of “functional consolidation” of services that include permitting, MEDIC, fire, government television and human resources.

Some in the Ballantyne area say they’d like to make their neighborhoods into a new town so they can have a bigger voice in a consolidation discussion they feel is unfair to south Mecklenburg taxpayers.

Their fear is a consolidation would lead to towns paying more for inner-city projects, something many in south Charlotte already complain about with projects like the streetcar; or funding low-income schools in Charlotte, which the county already does.

Having a new town in south Charlotte would mean a new government and someone locals could turn to in a “fight” against Charlotte and taxation.

Speaking on the subject in December, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, who represents south Mecklenburg, said he’d consider being in favor of a consolidation study if the city and county were willing to let the Ballantyne area form its own town and would consider letting Mecklenburg towns leave the county for Union County in the south or Iredell County in the north; or letting the towns “purchase” only what services they want from the city or county.

“What I will not study (in any form) is consolidation that forces town residents to pay for services they do not use,” James wrote in December.

He still feels that way now, and says it’s unlikely the current county commission will move forward on approving a study as it’s been proposed by the city.

“Practically speaking, I can’t support a study because the way the study is being touted it would shut out the towns,” said James, who represents Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville as well as much of south Charlotte. “Towns don’t want to study it, so to make it worthwhile for the towns means the towns would have to get something out of this, meaning it would have to be beneficial for them to study it.”

James says the towns currently look at consolidation as, “‘We study it, there’s consolidation, we lose.’ I don’t know how you change that formula to where you study (consolidation and) there’s a possibility the people in the towns would have lower taxes that the city of Charlotte would accept.”

James said Jones, the county manager, has already said he rather let the issue sit until the new county commission is picked in November. Then, there will be at least three new faces in the at-large seats and that commission could decide whether to move forward on a study.

As for now, James said, “the only way that consolidation works in my opinion is if we defang Charlotte, and that means forming a town (out of south Charlotte) and allowing all seven, if you include Ballantyne, to have control over the current county services in their neck of the woods” like welfare and mental health services. But in that case, James said towns would only be paying for the services they need, likely causing a tax-rate drop in the towns and tax increase in Charlotte.

“I don’t see the mayor or the Foundation of the Carolinas or anyone Uptown going along with that,” he said.

For a consolidation study to be approved any time soon, the county would have to approve the exact resolution city council already passed. If the county makes any changes to it, which the majority on the commission have implied they would, James said, then the changed resolution would have to go back to the city and get approval.

But the current resolution likely isn’t going anywhere on the county level for now, James said. “Based upon what they proposed, it’s a non-starter,” he said.

Mike Parks, editor@thecharlotteweekly.com

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