CHARLOTTE – County commissioners will have plenty to talk about during their annual budget planning retreat, including the 2019 revaluation, the property tax rate and the next five years of capital improvements, Jan. 23 to 25 in Greensboro.
But dozens of community members also provided the nine-member board plenty to think about beforehand, as they explained what they’d like to see as budget priorities for fiscal year 2020. In a first for the board, commissioners sought feedback before beginning the budget-building process.
During a Jan. 15 public hearing, residents made the case for more funding for education and recreation.
Arthur Griffin, a community advocate who served 17 years on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, compared strategic sourcing in education to learning how to do laundry. Griffin said that if whites aren’t white enough and colors are dull, you ask your mother for help.
But when it comes to effectively educating children, some ignore lessons learned, repeat the same cycles and expect the same results. Strategic sourcing allows you to take a look at each step of the cycle.
“Strategic sourcing, if done right, leverages your investment, stimulates collaboration and best practices and can foster an education ecosystem of excellence for all children,” Griffin said.
Justin Parmenter, a teacher at Waddell Language Academy, thanked the county for increasing the local salary supplement by 7 percent last year, as well as investing in support services.
Parmenter said social workers and school psychologists are in reactive mode because they are buried under paperwork and enormous caseloads. He challenged leaders to make local salary supplements the highest in the state, surpassing Wake and Carrboro counties.
Cheryl Milam, of the League of Women Voters Charlotte Mecklenburg, credited commissioners for funding 600 additional Pre-K seats and reducing the number of children on the child care subsidy waiting list. Wait lists still exist, she said, noting 6,500 4-year-olds would enroll in universal Pre-K if it was available this fall.
George Beckwith, chief financial officer at National Gypsum, said the return on investment for Pre-K will continue to pay off for many years to come.
“MECK Pre-K and quality early education help provide the basic early language reading and math skills that children in poverty may not have access to otherwise,” Beckwith said. “It’s not the fault of these children and it’s not the fault of their loving parents for the situation they were born into.”
Heidi Pruess, of the Mecklenburg Parks & Recreation Commission, encouraged the county to adopt her group’s recommended action items, including the creation of a new parks and recreation master plan and fully fund 2008 bond projects by 2023.
She also called for adequate staffing, noting the county is 80 people short of comparable parks and rec departments.
Peter Engels, of the Mecklenburg Parks & Recreation Commission, asked leaders to remove cost barriers in accessing parks and programming, such as creative art, computer programming, gardening, family budgeting, health assessments and referrals.
“Enabling all residents to access all park and recreation service has proven benefits to upward economic mobility and to improve public health especially in these vulnerable communities,” he said.
Doug Burnett, a board member for Greenways for Mecklenburg, offered several actions the county can take in completing the remaining 150 miles of the greenway network by 2035, including providing a least an additional $3 million in dedicated annual funding starting in 2020 for design and construction.
He also called for moving up start dates in the 2019-20 plan, adding staff to greenway acquisition and project management, and striving to complete 10 miles of greenway annually.
Burnett said the county needs to act now, as the cost of building a greenway mile has grown from $800,000 per mile in 2010 to $1.75 million today.
Sam Spencer, a representative on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, wanted to see county leadership make efforts to fight man-made climate change, while members of Moms Demand Action advocated for commissioners to support initiatives to prevent gun violence.
The retreat will be held Jan. 23 to 25 at the Grandover Hotel & Conference Center in Greensboro. Commissioners chose to go out of town to minimize distractions and get to know each other better. Four of the nine members are new to their roles.
The county intends to stream most of the retreat, with the exception of meals and team-building exercises.