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Commissioners Spar Over Tax Increase

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Last Tuesday’s budget meeting and straw vote has created a flurry of posts, attacks, and counter punches among Commissioners and Editorial writers.

Most recently, Democrat Commissioner Trevor Fuller has sent a letter critical of the supposed absence of GOP ideas.  Responding to the letter is Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour.

Both letters are posted below.

*UPDATE – Also posted is a suggested compromise from Commissioner James that will be rate neutral and still fund the “pet projects” of the Democrats.

However it stacks up, the ugly truth is that the BOCC is prepared to vote on a tax increase for Mecklenburg County, compounding the damage already inflicted by the City of Charlotte’s tax increase.

We recommend that people attend tomorrow’s meeting to voice their opposition.  Yes, it is hard to fight when you consider the outcome predetermined, but if we don’t start showing up like the other side always does…our losses are just a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Here is some info on how to participate in Tuesday’s meeting.  CLICK HERE

Commissioner Fuller’s letter:

Ever since our straw vote budget session last Tuesday, my Republican
colleagues on the Mecklenburg County Commission have been griping publicly
about the budget.  In fact, they have been more vocal in the newspaper than
they ever were during our meeting.  In fairness, I am compelled to respond
to these attacks.

At the outset, I acknowledge that this response may come across as partisan.
But it is difficult to take these after-the-fact criticisms seriously when
Republicans effectively abandoned the budget process, and when they
themselves were responsible for substantially more spending than the
Democrats.

To hear my Republican colleagues tell the story, they were a budgetary Don
Quixote, tilting at out-of-control spending and fighting the good fight to
prevent a tax rate increase.  The truth is that Republicans were responsible
for increasing the budget to the tune of about $750,000.  Is that the
“fiscal responsibility” they’re talking about?  The total amount of spending
offered by Democrats amounts to a grand total of $584,000, which is a mere
0.0003% of the overall budget.  And this is what the Republicans are
complaining so loudly about?  Meanwhile, Democrats were responsible for $2.2
million in cuts.  The result is that Democrats reduced the budget by a net
$1.6 million dollars.

Now, my Republican colleagues bemoan the fact that the budget contains a
small tax rate increase, and act as if there was nothing they could do to
stop it.  The evidence will show that we spent nearly four hours discussing
and debating the budget.  In that time, Republicans offered only three
budget cuts.  Even if every one of those cuts had been approved, we would
have been nowhere near the “tax rate neutral” budget that Republicans
contend we should have adopted.  So where was the Republican plan?

Rather than offering a plan, one Republican commissioner left the meeting
halfway through.  If Republicans had not precipitously abandoned the budget
process, we might have had fruitful discussions about areas in the budget
that could be cut.  In fact, I was led to believe that my Republican
colleagues and our board chair were having extensive discussions about the
budget, and I was looking forward to considering the ideas they had.  I
expected to hear those ideas sometime during our straw vote session.  But
after their fellow commissioner left, the Republicans offered not one single
budget cut for debate.  Not one.

Republicans cannot now complain about a process that they deserted.

Moreover, their bomb-throwing is not conducive to civil public discourse.
For sure, our colleagues’ contrived outrage plays very well in certain
quarters.  Rather than complain after-the-fact, Republicans should have had
the fortitude at least to fight for the so-called “fiscal sanity” they now
crave.  Instead, they abandoned ship.  Then, to obscure their dereliction,
they cast aspersions upon those who did participate meaningfully in the
process.

In short, interim County Manager Bobbie Shields recommended a responsible
budget.  Our adjustments made that recommended budget even better by
lowering the proposed tax rate increase, and by doing our best to meet the
needs of this community as fully as possible.

Cheap shots have never accomplished anything.

Trevor M. Fuller

County Commissioner At Large

Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners

600 East 4th Street, 11th Floor

Charlotte, North Carolina 28202

Tel.:  (704) 336-2574

E-mail:  <mailto:tmfuller1106@gmail.com>
trevor.fuller@mecklenburgcountync.gov

This is Commissioner Ridenhour’s response:

Trevor,

I am not sure to whom you are referring when you state, “they have been more vocal in the newspaper than they ever were during our meeting”. As I recall, and the online video shows, all three of us were vocal participants during the meeting.

You reference the $750K increase to CPCC for which Karen advocated, and you suggest that as an example of Republican irresponsibility (you stated, “is that the ‘fiscal responsibility’ they’re talking about”).  Perhaps you have forgotten that Karen made that motion AFTER George made a motion to increase the budget for CPCC to the tune of $2.5M? I would say that Karen’s motion was an excellent example of bi-partisan compromise, something which was sorely lacking Tuesday night.

Perhaps that is why some Democrats don’t seem to understand fiscal responsibility. It is not a simple spending equation, where more spending equals less fiscal responsibility. It is a matter of HOW tax dollars are spent. Are you suggesting that increasing spending to CPCC by $750K is less responsible than the blatant disregard for the budget process by handing out tax dollars to favored projects? Surely you jest.

It is interesting that you state that the Democrats increased spending by $584,000 is “a mere 0.0003% of the overall budget”.  Tuesday night Karen showed that the Republicans’ proposed cut to CMS’ increase (which was still an increase over last year) would have resulted in a “mere”  0.005% cut to their overall budget, and some Democrats were shocked that we would dare suggest such a thing.

I was very disappointed Tuesday night. You and I were seated next to each other, and at the break you said to me, “I think Commissioner Ridenhour thinks we’re spending like drunken sailors”, to which I replied, “well, now that you mention it…” I know, based on that conversation and others, that you, too, were concerned about spending and taxes. Yet you did not show any support for substantial cuts which could have averted the tax hike. I would have far more faith in the Democrats’ supposed desire to avoid a tax hike had they not supported adding several additional organizations to the budget. At least that would show the public, “we’re raising taxes, but only because we need to fund CMS so they can support the growing community”. Instead, the message is, “we’re raising taxes to support CMS…and a host of other new organizations, many of whom did not satisfy our process requirements to receive funding”.

You mention that, “Republicans should have had the fortitude at least to fight for the so-called ‘fiscal sanity’ they now crave”. We did, repeatedly. Yet our concerns and objections were summarily dismissed. But it is not too late to change course. We will meet tomorrow night, and hopefully we can find the courage to make some cuts and spare the citizens of Mecklenburg yet another tax increase. People of all political affiliations expect better from us than what happened last Tuesday.

This weekend I was washing my car, and my elderly neighbor stopped me. “Matthew, why are y’all raising my taxes this year?” “You’ll have to ask the Democrats about that one. We [Republicans] tried to prevent taxes from going up”, I replied. “But Matthew, I’m a Democrat!”

Matthew Ridenhour
Commissioner, Mecklenburg County District 5

 

Commissioner Bill James offers the following:

I received a call from David P at the Observer asking about how to compromise (D’s and R’s) on the budget while keeping the tax rate the same:

To do that would require that we make some relatively painless adjustments to various ‘reserves’ and ‘fund balance’.

In order to balance the budget without a tax increase at this point would require cutting $25 million from the existing budget. To accomplish this painlessly I would suggest:

1.      Defer OPEB’s funding for upcoming year                                            $8,000,000 (We deferred OPEB’s in 2009 and 2010 I believe)

2.      Freeze Facility Management and Maintenance                                $4,000,000 (would be kept at the same level as FY2013)

3.      Defer Capital and Fleet Reserves for a year                                        $6,400,000 (page 11 of the budget book – we deferred these in 2009 and 2010 also)

4.      Take the remaining difference from ‘fund balance’                        $6,600,000 (we took money from fund balance in 2009 and 2010 also)

$25,000,000

These 4 adjustments would allow all the existing expenditures and increases sacred to the Democrats to remain but would allow the tax rate to remain the same (something scared to the Republicans). We could adopt the budget ordinance tomorrow with these four changes and the budget would be balanced without a tax increase.

Regards,

Bill James

 

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