Six years after the recession prompted big cuts to schools, parks and libraries, Mecklenburg County is back on sound financial footing and wisely reinvesting in those and other areas.
County Manager Dena Diorio, who took the job in January, unveiled her first recommended budget today. It's a starting point, not an ending one, but appears to make smart, strategic investments in essential county services.
- The property tax rate remains the same.
- $26.8 million more to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a 7.4 percent hike. That includes 2 percent raises for locally funded staff but not raises for teachers, which primarily is the state's responsibility.
- Increased spending on parks and libraries, which were slashed in the downturn.
- Substantial new hiring in the Department of Social Services, and funding to hire 33 more school nurses and three nurse supervisors, ensuring at least one nurse in every school.
- Bulking up code enforcement with 24 new positions, and internal audit, with two new auditor positions.
- 2 percent raises for county staff.
- More money for the Charlotte Regional Partnership and the local film commission.
The obvious question is whether some of this largesse should be returned to taxpayers in the form of a property tax cut. We haven't crunched the numbers, but it appears that any responsible rate reduction would put only a small amount back in taxpayers' pockets.
We won't believe the legislature will pass a reasonable teacher-pay plan until it happens, but Diorio is right not to get out ahead of legislators on that front. We do wonder whether the Charlotte Regional Partnership has earned more county money at a time when state changes put its role in flux and there is talk of redundancy in economic development efforts locally.
Overall, though, given all the services county residents demand -- including great schools, pleasant parks and modest help for the lowest-income residents -- Diorio seems to be off to a strong start.
-- Taylor Batten