Public safety, lower tax rate are priorities


by Courtney Price


The countywide discussions of new fire and police tax districts will probably not affect 2012 budget planning, Mecklenburg County’s assistant manager told the Cornelius Town Board on Tuesday night, Jan. 18.



County Assistant Manager Michelle Lancaster-Sandlin said the work to implement the proposed districts couldn’t be completed before June, when the county and towns will vote on the next budget.



The county is considering creating new tax districts for the towns’ extra-territorial jurisdictions, and giving the towns the authority to tax those districts to help pay for fire protection from volunteer fire departments.



Cornelius Commissioner Jim Bensman said the county would like to do the same thing with police protection.



Bensman also said the price tag for taking on the fire districts might be higher than originally expected, because the $87,500 the county pays the town for fire protection doesn’t  include some personnel costs or the radio services currently provided by the town. The town is now estimating it could cost $100,000 more.



Until Tuesday, it seemed to Cornelius commissioners that the county was planning to push the plan through for the upcoming budget year to help cut costs.



“I think the county recognized the rising concerns from you and other towns,” Lancaster-Sandlin said. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners was supposed to discuss the districts at its Jan. 4 meeting, but the item was pulled from the agenda.



Lancaster-Sandlin spoke to the Cornelius commissioners Tuesday night as the board spent several hours organizing its budget and legislative priorities as well as major projects for the next year.



Projects for 2011



The town listed 20 major projects for the 2011 calendar year, including completing the Veterans Monument in November and completion of phase two of the Westmoreland Athletic Complex in October.



The project list also includes Zion Street improvements in March, sidewalks on West Catawba Avenue and Bethel Church Road in April, the Robbins Park Ellipse in May and improvements to the intersection of Westmoreland Road and West Catawba Avenue in December.



In terms of town operations, the year will include performance reviews for the volunteer fire and planning departments and completion of the town’s master plan.



Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said, “The Knox Road barricade will be gone no later than the end of February.”



Budget Concerns



While the board isn’t yet ready to discuss specifics about the 2012 budget, town staff did identify important items to keep in mind.



Of the four items on the list, Grant said the county is most likely to ask for help to fund the Cornelius Branch Library again this year. The town hasn’t committed to providing that funding, but during budget planning in the coming weeks, board members will keep the item in mind.



The county could also implement the fire and police service districts, though that probably won’t affect next year’s budget.



Town staff also reminded commissioners that the state is looking at a budget shortfall, and that state funding might be withheld.



Legislative priorities



On a regional level, the town will continue to push for the widening of Interstate 77 and bringing a magistrate to the north part of the county.



The town also wants to find sources of funding for the Red Line commuter rail project.



Other board news



At the meeting Tuesday, the board also made appointments to two commissions.



Jamie Sherrill, of 19822 Ferbia Place, and Lenzy Wallace Jr., of 19322 Ruffner Drive, were appointed to vacant seats on the PARC Commission.



The board appointed Alais Fankhauser, of 19438 Smith Circle, to the Historic Preservation Commission.



Huntersville waiting for more on fire districts
The Huntersville town board heard the county’s fire tax district presentation Tuesday night, Jan. 18. Because Huntersville’s extra-territorial jurisdiction is valued so high, if the town loses the county’s $87,500 supplement, the tax increase on the ETJ to make up the difference would be a minor one. As the changes are in preliminary stages, the board chose not to discuss the topic at Tuesday’s meeting. For more information about the proposed tax districts, visit www.huntersvilleherald.com and search for “fire tax.”