Updated 1:19 p.m. with Ridenhour's response to Fuller.
Mecklenburg County commissioners continue to battle over their $1.7 billion budget today, just 24 hours before what is normally a routine rubber-stamp approval of a budget hashed out in previous weeks.
Commissioners took a series of straw votes last Tuesday, tinkering with interim County Manager Bobbie Shields' recommended budget and tentatively approving a 2.35-cent tax rate increase. The final vote is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) night.
In an op-ed in Saturday's Observer, Republican commissioner Matthew Ridenhour blasted some of the board's Democrats for what he considered irresponsible spending and a flawed process. "There was zero fiscal sanity," Ridenhour wrote. "There was no process."
Now, Democrat Trevor Fuller is responding. In a letter to the Observer, Fuller says Republican commissioners "have been more vocal in the newspaper than they ever were during the meeting." The Republicans failed to offer any plan for cutting the budget, Fuller said, and he's offended by their "contrived outrage."
Republican Bill James responds to Fuller this morning. He suggests the board delay tomorrow night's budget vote and take another stab at cutting spending and eliminating the proposed tax hike. James proposes cutting $7 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and saving $4.8 million by eliminating pay raises for county employees, among other cuts.
Below is Fuller's letter, followed by James', followed by a response this afternoon from Ridenhour to Fuller.
Trevor Fuller's letter:
To the Editor of the Charlotte Observer:
Bill James' letter:
(Click on chart below to see larger version)
And finally, Ridenhour's response:
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 theyre 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 Karens motion was an excellent example of bi-partisan compromise, something which was sorely lacking Tuesday night.
Perhaps that is why some Democrats dont 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 were 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, were raising taxes, but only because we need to fund CMS so they can support the growing community. Instead, the message is, were 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 yall raising my taxes this year? Youll have to ask the Democrats about that one. We [Republicans] tried to prevent taxes from going up, I replied. But Matthew, Im a Democrat!
Commissioner, Mecklenburg County District 5