The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners met for a budget presentation on May 19 to hear County Manager Dena Diorio’s proposed spending plan for Fiscal Year 2023. During the presentation, Diorio outlined her funding recommendations for county operations and services, as well as those allocated to support community organizations, partner agencies and the board’s priority areas.
Diorio is proposing a $2.1 billion operating budget for Mecklenburg County, which represents 6% more, or $111 million, than last year. Despite this increase, Diorio is not recommending a property tax hike.
Budget aims to achieve goals
Diorio explained that in addition to keeping county operations running, the new budget aims to fund programs and services that align with the board’s priorities, which were identified at its budget retreat earlier this year.
Their priorities include increasing affordable housing; closing education attainment gaps; improving environmental leadership; strengthening Meck Pre-K; investing in workforce development; and reducing racial disparities.
Here’s are some highlighted new investments in these categories:
- $8.1 million to support the Rental Subsidy Fund, including $3.1 million for the Billingsley mixed-income development and $5 million for other programs.
- $3 million for rental subsidies.
- $778,000 for the United Way of Central Carolinas to develop the implementation and fundraising plan for A Home For All: Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Strategy To End & Prevent Homelessness.
- $300,000 to expand the current housing program for justice-involved persons.
- $500,000 to research and develop responses to the impacts of corporate-owned single-family houses.
- $4.2 million for new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) initiatives, including funding for 32 English learner teachers, increased access to educators and programs for English learners, and a new early college high school at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).
- $3 million for the Carolinas Aviation Museum to fund education opportunities for students, including STEM education.
- $250,000 for Out Teach to build outdoor learning labs in three Title I schools.
- $35 million for land acquisition.
- $12.8 million for facility upgrades, additional electric vehicles and charging stations, and invasive species control.
- $3.2 million for stream restoration and pond cleanup
- $625,000 for idle reduction technology in the Medic fleet, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
- $544,000 to increase reimbursement rates to providers of Meck Pre-K — free pre-k for eligible four-year-olds in Mecklenburg County — to help recruit and retain employees. This brings the total funding for Meck Pre-K to $23.8 million.
- $1 million to expand the Unified Workforce Development program, which provides integrated services and employment placement.
- $235,000 for three IT positions for graduates of the Road to Hire program, which partners with CMS.
- $100,000 to support employment services training for Food and Nutrition Services (SNAP) clients.
- $66,000 to hire two solid waste technicians through the Autism After 18 program, which employees individuals on the autism spectrum.
- $1.1 million of existing funding will also be used to support new programs.
Reducing racial disparities was identified as a cross-cutting goal of the Board of County Commissioners that county staff say is integrated into all of the priorities listed above. An additional $1.1 million will go toward programs that specifically target disparities, such as:
- $84,000 to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library to enhance services for English as a Second Language (ESL) customers.
- $389,000 to expand food security initiatives within the public health department.
- $470,000 to establish low-cost/no-cost health clinics in partnership with StarMed and The Blessing Foundation.
Other notable expenditures
Of the county’s proposed $2.1 billion budget, $46.9 million is for CPCC, an increase of 8.2% or $3.5 million over FY2022. The funding represents the college’s full ask and will be invested primarily in facility maintenance and security.
CMS on the other hand, may only get half of the increase it’s asking the county for. On May 10, the school district presented its request to Mecklenburg County for a $579 million operating budget for the 2022-23 school year, which is $40 million more than last year. However, Diorio only allocated for an extra $20 million, half of the district’s additional ask, in the new budget.
County staff said during the May 19 presentation that the total will still be enough for CMS to accomplish its goals, which include implementing a strategic plan to address struggling students.
Also in the county budget is $3 million dedicated for projects recommended directly by residents through a participatory budgeting pilot program called PB Meck. Residents in each district can vote on a variety of projects through June 24 with the top projects funded in the FY2023 budget.
Diorio is recommending the county use $9.5 million of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for maintenance and upgrades at Archdale Park, L.C. Coleman Park, Monroe Road Park and Druid Hills Park. Another $11.3 million is suggested for one-time bonuses for county employees working through the pandemic.
Other expenses related to staff include $16.6 million to give full and part-time employees a 5% raise and $3.5 million to increase the county’s minimum wage to $20 per hour, including for EMTs and paramedics. In addition, Mecklenburg’s EMS agency, Medic, is poised to get $3.6 million for compensation adjustments to address turnover, recruitment, and reliance on overtime.
Diorio’s proposed budget includes $2.7 million in retention bonuses for employees working in the county jail, plus funding to increase shift differential pay, taser replacement and facility maintenance. Earlier this year, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services ordered Sheriff Garry McFadden to fix issues caused by staffing shortages in the Mecklenburg County Detention Center in Uptown.
Diorio also included $250,000 for an upcoming Pablo Picasso exhibit at the Mint Museum called Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds. The exhibit, which will showcase 45 Picasso paintings from collections around the world, is scheduled for Feb. 11-May 21, 2023 and is anticipated to draw more than 100,000 visitors.
The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners will hold a budget workshop to make adjustments on Tuesday, May 24, followed by a public hearing on May 25 and straw votes sessions scheduled for June 15 and 16. The budget will be considered for adoption on June 22, as FY2023 begins July 1, 2022.