Wednesday, May 26, 2010

County chairman to the City: Help us, please!!!

What's keeping Mecklenburg County commissioners chairman Jennifer Roberts up at night? The county's budget crisis - and she's looking for help anywhere she can get it. At 1 this morning, she dashed off this missive by e-mail to city council members who might have some bucks to spare:

Dear City Colleagues

I apologize for getting this to you so late, knowing that you will be beginning your straw vote process this evening. It has been a very busy few weeks, to say the least.

However, I would like to ask that you give some consideration to supporting the County in this difficult time of crisis. As you know, we are looking at an $81 million funding gap due to declining sales tax and other revenues. This will hit our libraries, our schools, and other vital programs particularly hard. We have made a commitment, as you have, not to raise property taxes when we are still struggling with unemployment of well over 11%.

I do not know what amount you might be able to support to help become a bigger partner with our library system, for example, which bears both the city and the county’s names, but if you would like to contribute any amount whatsoever, it would be welcome. If you want instead to support teachers in our schools, and help us close the $21 million gap there, any amount there would be welcome as well. I appreciate your exploration of running the safe-light program again, which brought over $4 million to the schools in this fiscal year, an amount sorely needed. Were the City and County one consolidated government, this sharing of resources would be easier. As it is, I know this would be a highly unusual step for the City to take.

I know that the City is also facing a funding gap, and it is presumptuous of me to ask anything; but as an advisor once told me, it is amazing how much more you get when you ask than when you don’t.

As you know, we as a board have not yet begun our straw vote process, and I am not sure where my colleagues stand yet on our budget, or even on my request to you this evening. At this point I can only say I speak for myself as someone who sees great needs in our community. Your employees have worked hard and well and certainly they deserve to feel valued. I do not want to jeopardize your ability to pay them appropriately. I merely ask if there is any funding that you find that could be re-directed to essential county needs, we would welcome it.

Thanks for your consideration and good luck tonight in your deliberations.

Jennifer Watson Roberts
Chairman, Mecklenburg County
Board of Commissioners

That's a heartfelt appeal. What do you think? Should the city provide financial help to the county? If so, what would you like the money used for?

Posted by the Observer's editorial board

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GOP playing chicken with D'Annunzio

GOP leaders are all-in on fighting their own Tim D'Annunzio. It's a risky strategy that will either save them headaches or put egg all over their face.
D'Annunzio, an outspoken conservative, faces former sports anchor Harold Johnson in the June 22 Republican primary in the 8th Congressional District. A few days ago, N.C. Republican Party chairman Tom Fetzer categorically dismissed D'Annunzio as unfit to hold any public office, a rare and stark denunciation of a candidate from his own party.
Today, the five N.C. Republicans in Congress came out united against D'Annunzio, saying Johnson offers the best chance for a Republican victory in November against Democrat Larry Kissell. That kind of unity is unusual, and was notable because a few of them -- Reps. Patrick McHenry, Sue Myrick and Virginia Foxx come to mind -- don't exactly represent the liberal wing of the Republican Party.
Two scenarios could play out now. Johnson could beat D'Annunzio. Fetzer and the Republican establishment would let out a long whistle of relief. Or D'Annunzio could ride an anti-establishment mood and a low turnout to victory over Johnson. That would be humiliating for Republican leaders and would give Kissell endless material for 30-second ads in the fall.
Stay tuned!
-- Posted by The Observer editorial board

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Other budget strategies? Car taxes, even cutting commish/mayor's salaries

It was all budgets all the time this week as city after city, county after county in North Carolina unveiled their budgets. And though policymakers in Mecklenburg County are skittish about fee and tax increases, some others are tapping into citizen pocketbooks to meet needs. Here’s a look at some:

CAR TAX: Motorists in Raleigh could see a $5 jump in their annual vehicle tax bills, if the city council adopts the $620 million budget proposed Tuesday by Raleigh City Manager J. Russell Allen. The proposed budget doesn’t include a property tax increase or lay-offs of city staff, but does including the elimination of 24 vacant position and tightening of city services. Water rates are also expected to rise by approximately 9 percent this summer.

PROPERTY TAX HIKE: Property taxes in Wilkes County would go up and spending would be cut under the proposed 2010-11 budget presented last night by County Manager John Yates, as the county tries to recover from a financial crisis. The proposed property-tax rate is 65 cents for every $100 of valuation, an 8-cent increase from the current rate of 57 cents per $100. The owner of a $100,000 home who pays $570 in property taxes in the current year would pay $650 under the proposed rate. The county has already made spending cuts, including three furlough days for employees and the postponement of items, including work on plans for a proposed new jail. The proposed budget doesn’t contain any pay increases for county employees. Thirty-two employees have retired recently because of incentives to do so. The county will leave 21 of those positions vacant.

SALES TAX HIKE: Wilkes County officials also decided to put the issue of increasing the local sales tax by a quarter-cent before voters as one possible way to offset sluggish county revenues and help build back the county’s fund balance. The current sales tax rate is 7 3/4 cents for every $1.

DIP INTO SAVINGS: The town of Wendell proposed a budget that keeps the tax rate steady at 49 cents per $100 of property value. But commissioners used $281,250 from the town’s savings to balance the budget. That amounts to just over 8 percent of the money in the town’s savings account. The budget provides no money for employee pay raises, although commissioners have said they will revisit the issue in December and could add raises back into the budget then.

CUT COMMISH/MAYOR’S SALARIES: Commissioners have also agreed to roll back their own salaries to 2008 levels, The cut means commissioners’ salaries will fall from $4,284 per year to $4,000 annually. The mayor’s salary will also take a hit, dropping from $6,482 to $6,000. Mayor Harold Broadwell will retain his $600 annual travel allowance.

SCHOOLS HIT HARD: In Johnston County, schools bear the load of cutbacks laid out in the county manager’s budget proposal. County Manager Rick Hester is calling for a $161.1 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s a $10 million drop from this year’s budget. Hester recommends county commissioners give Johnston schools $49.6 million, or $6.6 million less than the schools got this year (a cut of more than 8 percent). The school board agreed last week to ask the county for $56.2 million to hold steady on spending. School officials are already expecting to lose 113 teaching positions and more than $6.7 million to state cuts, Superintendent Ed Croom has said.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, to be Wake County - for budget reasons

This budget season, we wish we could be Wake County. Just for budget reasons, of course.

Today, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones unveiled his budget and the harsh cuts it will demand to plug a $81.1 million deficit. But just a day earlier, Wake County Manager David Cooke was unveiling a budget that calls for just $2.4 million less than the county spent last year.

Oh, to be in Wake County’s shoes!

Wake's budget involves no property tax increase and the elimination of about 58 full-time positions (Meck is looking at something like 500, more than 8 times as many), 28 of them occupied. There will be no library closings and Wake County schools will operate on the same amount of money as last year.

“I feel kind of fortunate,” said Ron Margiotta, the Wake school board chairman. “It would be wonderful if we could get more, but I’m glad this is what we are getting.”

We've got a feeling that's not a sentiment that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Chairman Eric Davis will be sharing. Mecklenburg County Manager Jones cut $21 million from what the schools are getting this year.

Here’s a look at a couple of other local budgets unveiled, and how officials plan to deal with sluggish revenue due to the recession, this week:

TAX INCREASE: In Durham, City Manager Tom Bonfield proposed a budget Monday night that eliminates 31 staff positions (15 jobs are unfilled) and raises the property-tax rate by 1.19 cents per $100 valuation – an extra $23.80 on a house valued at $200,000. No raises for city employees.

HIGHER UTILITY AND GARBAGE COLLECTION FEES: In High Point, City Manager Strib Boynton’s proposed 2010-11 budget calls for holding the property tax rate steady, but residents and businesses would see higher utility rates and a new garbage collection fee under the spending plan unveiled Monday. The High Point Public Library, which is currently open seven days a week, would close on Mondays and operating hours at five of the city’s six recreation centers would be reduced by 15 hours per week during the school year. A solid waste collection fee might be instituted depending on what happens with state and county shared revenue sources. The budget also would eliminate 51 full and part-time vacant city positions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NRA Favorite Things

Uptown welcomes some 70,000 visitors this week as the National Rifle Association convenes its 139th annual meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center. Those visitors will include Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck and Chuck Norris among other celebrities and politicians. We’re fresh out of trumpets for a welcoming fanfare, but we do have this delightful little ditty penned by Martin Settle, of UNC-Charlotte’s English Department. Sing along if you know the tune – and you do! It’s set to “My Favorite Things” from ‘Sound of Music.’

Pistol snub noses and shooting positions
Bright copper casings and carbines with pistons
Wood stocks of walnut with swivel stud rings
These are a few of our favorite things.

Pump action shotguns and toggle lock Lugers
The sound of a round as it seats in a Ruger
Wild geese that plummet when they’ve been winged
These are a few of our favorite things.

When the law’s tight
When the ammo’s low
When there’s gun control
We simply remember the second amendment
And then we can just reload.

Gun barrels that gleam with a stainless steel satin
Pistol grip diamonds and holsters of patent
Night vision scopes that turn everything green
These are a few of our favorite things.

Butt plates on shoulders, cheek pieces to nuzzle
Suppressors for flashes to thread on a muzzle
Tactical weapons with large magazines
These are a few of our favorite things.

When no street lights
When police cease
When we’re feeling sad
We simply find peace in our safety release
And then we don’t feel so bad.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Take Joe 'You lie' Wilson to work

Remember Joe "You lie" Wilson, who got so much attention for talking back to President Obama during his 2009 speech to Congress. Well, he's running for re-election in South Carolina and his campaign is sending out a creative e-mail saying he will "work" for voters, and he means work as in doing constituents' jobs. Here's part of what the e-mail says:

"Second District Congressman Joe Wilson has made job creation his top priority and he's setting out to tell the voters one-on-one about his plans. He’s hitting the streets to talk to employers and workers about how we can create jobs here in South Carolina.
"Joe’s jobs plan isn’t a top-down, government knows best program like you'd see from Democrats in Washington. He’s rolling up his sleeves and getting to work alongside his fellow South Carolinians. It’s all a part of “Take Joe to Work.”

"Recently, Joe has worked the drive-through window at Wendy’s and laid bricks at the new State Farmers’ Market. Today (Tuesday) he headed out to Richard’s Automotive in West Columbia and did auto maintenance alongside small business owner Richard Lee.
"If you want Joe to come out to your workplace, it’s not too hard to get in touch and make your pitch. First, the business has to be located in South Carolina's Second District. Second, go to, and follow the instructions. The campaign will need some information about the business and why Joe should visit.
"In just a couple simple steps, anybody in the Second District could be working shoulder-to-shoulder with their Congressman.
For more information, and to catch Joe’s latest Web Video, go to"