As Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx continues his push to consolidate government and services in Mecklenburg County, Matthews and Mint Hill officials remain opposed to the idea.
Foxx has stated that the goal of consolidating governments and services in the county is to save taxpayers more money. It could create one all-encompassing government – instead of councils in Charlotte and the county’s six towns – and conglomerate select county services, which in theory, would cut down on some of the redundancy of different groups in the county that already do the same thing.
Such a consolidation could result in one governmental board that county districts would elect representatives to. But leaders in the county’s six towns – Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius, Huntersville, Davidson and Pineville – aren’t for the plan.
In January, Matthews commissioners passed a resolution formally announcing their opposition to Foxx’s proposal. Mint Hill elected officials also have voiced opposition to consolidation.
And mayors for both towns said this week their positions haven’t changed. But a recent letter from Foxx to county leaders pushing the idea has them miffed. Officials weren’t kept in the discussion as Foxx had previously promised, they said.
Foxx sent an email to both mayors apologizing and Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said he’s received phone calls from Foxx’s office doing what he called “damage control.”
Foxx sent the letter late last month to 25 community leaders asking them to sign a petition encouraging the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to support creating a commission that would study consolidation next year. The study would be paid for by the organization Foundation of the Carolinas.
Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones warned commissioners of the letter in an email on July 29 to prepare them for a possible petition supporting the study.
“We were all caught off guard by that letter,” Taylor said. “Not only did (Foxx) not include us in sending the letter, he didn’t give us a heads up. We knew from conversations this spring that he still thought the idea had value from a City of Charlotte perspective … but he promised us all he would continue to keep us in the loop.”
“The towns, quite frankly, were pretty taken aback by the whole issue,” he said. “We don’t feel like we’re adequately represented now on a lot of county issues and we feel like if we consolidate we will lose even more representation. We really think the study is a waste of money and a waste of time.”
The letter, which was emailed to Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly, reads in part, “In this era of incredible growth, Charlotte-Mecklenburg must respond to the increased demand for local government services. Therefore, it is essential that we explore ways to create a more navigable, comprehensive and accountable local government. The current climate of volatility at the state and federal levels makes it more critical than ever for us to be as coordinated and cohesive as possible with our resources. By creating a commission to study consolidation, our elected officials can demonstrate their commitment to exploring all options that may improve government accountability and effectiveness for Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s citizens.”
The study commission, as outlined in a resolution passed by Charlotte City Council last year, would be made up of 25 members appointed by the city and county who would ultimately make “a recommendation for or against governmental consolidation.” The group would have six months to study the issue and prepare its report.
If the study recommends against consolidation, according to the December 2011 resolution, it would then be up to the city and county manager to complete a study of “functional consolidation” of services that include permitting, MEDIC, fire, government television and human resources.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, who represents Matthews and Mint Hill, says it’s unlikely the current county commission will move forward on approving a study as it’s been proposed by the city.
“Practically speaking, I can’t support a study because the way the study is being touted it would shut out the towns,” he said. “Towns don’t want to study it, so to make it worthwhile for the towns means the towns would have to get something out of this, meaning it would have to be beneficial for them to study it.”
James said Jones, the county manager, has already said he’d rather let the issue sit until the new county commission is elected in November. Then, there will be at least three new faces in the at-large seats and that commission could decide whether to move forward on a study. The board would have until the end of December to make a decision.
As for now, James said, “the only way that consolidation works in my opinion is if we defang Charlotte, and that means forming a town (out of south Charlotte) and allowing all seven, if you include Ballantyne, to have control over the current county services in their neck of the woods” like welfare and mental health services. But in that case, James said, towns would only pay for the services they need, likely causing a tax-rate drop in the towns and tax increase in Charlotte.
“I don’t see the mayor or the Foundation of the Carolinas or anyone Uptown going along with that,” James said.