Sir Anthony/29 N. Neighborhood Association

NorthEast Coalition Minutes for March 21, 2010

               

Charlotte City Councilman Michael Barnes assured residents at the NorthEast Coalition of Neighborhoods meeting that the city’s belt-tightening would result in no cuts to the police or fire departments – which he said account for 66 percent of the budget.

Residents attending the Sunday, March 21, meeting of the NorthEast Coalition of Neighborhoods at the University City library had much to say about the state of local government.  And it all kept coming back to a gloomy financial picture that isn’t likely to change for several years, based on what local leaders have said.

Charlotte City Councilman Michael Barnes, who is chairman of the council’s budget committee, and Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Vice Chairman Harold Cogdell, Jr. had the floor for most of the two-hour session, covering everything from the potential closure of 12 branch libraries and deep cuts to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget.  High unemployment has forced out-of-work citizens to turn to county-funded aid in ever-increasing numbers, Cogdell explained to gathered residents, even though an $85 million drop in sales tax revenues from the 2008 fiscal year to today has crippled the system.  “We’ve had a 25 to 30 percent increase … We have gone in 18 months from 1 in 6 people relying on county assistance to 1 in 5,” Cogdell said. “That is a huge increase.”  The spike in need has impacted everything from the health department to domestic violence services. Cutting non-essential services, Cogdell said, was the only option.  “I’m not here to be popular,” the vice chairman said. “I’m here to do what’s right.”  So far, what might be the right thing to do is causing concern from citizens, specifically when it comes to services like libraries and schools.

“The libraries got impacted in a big way,” Cogdell said, though emphasizing the fact that the initial decision to close branches, instead of cutting staff or shortening hours, was made not by the county, but by the library system’s own board.  Cogdell also discussed plans to take back $6.3 million in county funds from CMS and $500,000 from Central Piedmont Community College at the next commission meeting.  “That is really difficult for me to support,” Cogdell said, referring specifically to the CPCC cuts.  Further cuts will be necessary next fiscal year, he said, and the only way to deal with them, are more budget cuts or a property tax increase.  But, Cogdell added, cutting county workers could add to the number of people seeking aid.  “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

Residents were quick to point out the just-released listings for delinquent taxes owed by individuals and corporations.  “Are you going after these people tooth and nail?” John DeCoste asked Cogdell.  Cogdell replied that the county’s ability to put liens on property for taxes wouldn’t necessarily ensure payment.  DeCoste replied that some action should be taken to get even a partial payment.  “Even if you can’t pay 100 percent, pay 5 percent, pay 10 percent. Pay something,” DeCoste said.

Tim Smith, one of several candidates for local office in attendance, said a tax should be levied on commuters who take salaries from jobs in Mecklenburg County to their homes outside the county.

N.C. Representative Nick Mackey (D-99), also in the audience, addressed that question by saying such a tax hasn’t been discussed in Raleigh and would be hard to implement.

Several residents did say they’d like to see city and county governments consolidated. But neither official showed much enthusiasm for that idea. Cogdell said that the city’s ability to generate a small amount of revenue from its services would seem to put consolidation back on the table.  “One thing we have to be very careful of is that we don’t make situational decisions,” Cogdell said. He said that despite the poor outlook, he believes this will be a short-term problem. “In the interim, we’re all going to have to make some sacrifices."  In other business, Cheryl Marsh, senior vice-president of Charlotte Center City Partners, gave a brief talk about that group’s 2020 Vision Plan and encouraged locals to have their say. She said University City residents are invited to attend a Wednesday, March 31 community workshop at the Charlotte Convention Center, where the draft plan and more information would be available.

More information on that session, and the plan, is available at www.CenterCity2020.com.

Barnes also updated the community on upcoming road projects. The rebuilding of the US 29-NC 49 interchange is on the horizon – a major project set to begin this summer and take until early 2012 to complete.  “I’m going to tell you, it’s going to be pretty ugly,” Barnes said of the project.  As overpasses are replaced and the roadway is redesigned, traffic will be diverted into different lanes, or rerouted onto other streets.
But despite the headaches that are sure to result, Barnes said the contractors are on notice to have the work done right.

“We have a liquidated damages provision,” he said. Failure to have the project finished on time, or to keep enough lanes open during construction, will result in fines.  John DeCoste said he was glad work was finally going ahead on the 29/49 interchange, for which bond money was first raised in 1998. “That’s the worst stretch of road in Charlotte,” he said.  Barnes said right-of-way acquisition for the final leg of Interstate 485 is under way, with hopes for initial construction to begin by December.  Fallon praised the impact those projects will have. “In the end we’ll get some of that traffic off of Harris (Boulevard), and we’ll get a loop around the city,” she said.  Also at the meeting were a number of local candidates for public offices, who were given a few minutes each to introduce themselves and address the community.

 

Posted in Charlotte NC by fountaingrove on 04/17/2010
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