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SMART/SPARK Movements Picking Up Steam

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Raintree Country Club in south Charlotte was packed last week with a crowd of more than 50 concerned citizens who attended the most recent meeting of SMART (South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers) and SPARK Educational Performances (Strategic Partners for Accountability and Reform of Key Educational Performances).

Tim Timmerman of SMART led the meeting and updated those in attendance on the progress being made by the non-partisan citizens group. He highlighted how the group has been extremely busy working on many fronts, including property revaluations and partnering with SPARK to push the movement to break CMS into smaller, independent school districts (ISD). Timmerman explained how these and other initiatives are tied into SMART’s overall goal of rallying South Mecklenburg residents to get engaged with the issues, become active in the community, and to bolster their presence and impact at polling booths – all to give the neglected and taken advantage of residents of southern Mecklenburg a voice in the affairs of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

The meeting produced some valuable discussion and included three main speakers, of which I was honored to be counted among the ranks. I told the group that the petition to ask the state legislature to create a pilot program by splitting CMS into smaller, locally controlled ISDs was off to a fast start, collecting more than 400 signatures in its first 30 days. The petition, which I encourage you to sign, can be found here.

As an example of the needs that could be better addressed by smaller school districts, did you know the State per-pupil funding allotment is $5,142. But according to CMS’ own numbers, a predominance of schools in the south and north parts of Mecklenburg receive less than the state allotment. Schools I highlighted at the SMART meeting included Endhaven Elementary and Elon Park Elementary in the South, as well as Torrence Creek in the North. These schools, according to CMS, receive $4981, $4535 and $4487 respectively.  Not only do these schools (and MANY others) receive less than what the State allots, but a majority of property tax dollars paid by residents from the southern and northern suburbs never flow back into their neighborhood schools.

I used the example of Elon Park and how if each child’s family had an average property tax bill of $2,000, that roughly $500 of that should be going to school operations.  If Elon Park were receiving its NC State allotment, plus just these property tax revenues, the school would have (roughly) an extra $900,000!

The meeting was also attended by Jim Bensman (former Cornelius Town Commissioner) who gave a very detailed and enlightening presentation regarding the process for property revaluation appeals, how that process is significantly stacked against the taxpayer, and how the “Stigma Adjustment” resulted in property values in certain parts of the County being adjusted down because they are in areas “stigmatized” by foreclosures; yet the “Stigma Adjustment” was not applied to all properties across the County, it was only done in certain areas.  The Town of Cornelius has also taken a leadership role in protesting this to the Board of County Commissioners.

Combined with efforts of groups like SMART, progress is being made but people need to understand what is going on and get activated to continue putting more and more pressure on elected officials to correct the injustice that countless Mecklenburg residents are having to deal with regarding their property valuations and subsequent property tax bills.

SMART has just launched a petition drive of its own toward the end of rallying citizens and keeping up the pressure on government to fix property valuations to make them fair for ALL taxpayers.  The petition, which can be found here, reaffirms the movement to de-annex south Charlotte from the Queen City.

Jay Privette ended the meeting by presenting SMART’s “Declaration of Intent.”  This was the formal unveiling of SMART’s desire to have the area of South Charlotte de-annexed from the City of Charlotte. Privette told the crowd that if the residents of South Charlotte had their own town, they would have the ability, like Cornelius, to protect the rights and best interests of the people. As it stands now, South Charlotte is a major tax contributor for the City of Charlotte, yet the area is severely underrepresented – having only one member on Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners. In essence, it was noted, South Charlotte is faced with taxation without representation.

Privette presented a number of possible de-annexation outcomes, including but not limited to creating a separate town, becoming an unincorporated territory, or even being absorbed into the neighboring towns of Matthews and Pineville.  The SMART petition also asks which option signers would like to see happen.

After the meeting was adjourned, attendees were fired up to get involved and disappointed to hear the truth of how so many Mecklenburg taxpayers in the North and South are being taken advantage of by their local government entities. The people I spoke with were disappointed, but energized to see that all of the groups, SMART, SPARK, Jim Bensman and the Town of Cornelius, were working to rally citizens toward common goals of more responsible government and lower tax burdens for citizens.

If you want to get involved with SPARK, please check out the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/12.SMART or e-mail the group at smart.advocate@aol.com.

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