Mecklenburg Co commissioners to take millions from lapse salaries to fund Charlotte schools

Education and the Mecklenburg County budget

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County commissioners will take millions of dollars from lapse salaries to fund raises for Charlotte school teachers, officials announced during a budget meeting Tuesday.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday morning to review the county manager's budget proposal, discuss the proposed budget and take a straw vote.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) District requested $6.9 million to fund a 7 percent increase in teacher pay supplement provided by the county. This is money the county pays to help attract and retain the best teachers for CMS.  The school district says an increase hasn't happened in about ten years.  Teachers are please county commissioners heard their voices.

"This means that some teachers who were not going to get a raise from the state and never get a raise from that state in this budget cycle - will see a little bit in their paychecks," Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators President Erlene Lyde said.

The money to fund the raises will come from lapse salaries of more than 400 unfilled county positions. Millions of dollars are sitting in that account now. $6.9 million will be transferred to pay for the raises. County Manager Dena Diorio expressed displeasure in using that method.

"My concern is it's not recurring revenue," Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said. "So basically what they've done is taken those dollars and fund it for one year - so when we get to fiscal year 20 - we have to find money to fund that."

Commissioners say they are not concerned about the county manager's fears.

"Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves," County Commissioner Trevor Fuller said. "When we get to next year's budget, let's see where we are and what we can do then."

County Manager Dena Diorio called for a property tax increase in her $1.7 billion dollar budget proposal, resulting in a property tax raise of 3/4 of a cent.  Majority of commissioners agreed to raise taxes. That tax increase will raise about $9 million to create 33 Pre-K classrooms for about 600 at-risk kids.

"When you bring them into school earlier the research shows those kids are most likely make it to the 3rd grade reading level and graduate," Lyde said.

Commissioners did offer a way not to raise taxes and also provide teacher raises and Universal PreK. Matthew Ridenhour made a suggestion, but it was shot down. He claims the county was too conservative with their estimates.

"Every year we have underestimated it. Just this year alone we had $20 million in revenue over and above we had anticipated.  There is money out there to be able to tap into for these things," County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said.

Commissioner Dumont Clarke said he wanted the budget to have bipartisan support and wanted all nine of the commissioners to vote in agreement.  He saw Tuesday that will not happen. Commissioner Bill James is also against a tax hike. He says it is coming at a bad time.

"It sends a bad message in general for you to raise taxes and then you do revaluation and then you hit them again - that's like a double whammy," Commissioner Bill James said.

Commissioners say it's not for sure taxes will go up after a revaluation - for some homeowners taxes could go down.

Also in Tuesday's straw vote meeting, commissioners agreed that CMS should give non certified staff like bus drivers and cafeteria workers a raise too.  CMS will have money left over in its budget to make that happen.  No word on how much of a raise they will get.

County commissioners will officially vote on their budget June 19.

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