Davidson Coalition: Stop digging town into deeper hole
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – At their second public meeting, members of the Davidson Coalition for Fiscal Responsibility began examining parts of the town budget in detail, looking at what co-leader Rick Short called “nonessential services.”
Mickey Pettus and Vince Winegardner, two town board candidates who attended the meeting, also suggested the town staff has become too great a “buffer” between residents and the town board.
“The tail is wagging the dog,” Pettus said. “… They’re good people, but they have a thought process that they’re the shepherds and we’re the sheep.”
Short made a presentation on the town budget and said he reviewed the numbers with town Finance Director Eric Hardy.
“The first thing you do when you’re in a hole is to stop digging,” Short said. “Some of these problems are not fixable, at least not quickly, but we have to start electing people who will stop digging.”
Underlying all of the group’s discussion is the town’s ongoing obligation to cover annual debt payments for MI-Connection, the cable TV-broadband company that Davidson and Mooresville bought in bankruptcy, which is struggling to build revenues. But the 50 or so people attending the Aug. 11 meeting at the Lake Norman YMCA didn’t offer any collective wisdom for the unloading of that albatross.
Instead, the members discussed other parts of the budget, including:
• The town’s continuing subsidy for Davidson Community Players. The town purchased and leased a building on Armour Street to the theater company. But the theater group pays the town $26,000 annually, leaving the town to pays the remaining $27,000.
• $55,000 budgeted for new parking/directional signs in the town, “even though the parking study said there is no immediate parking crunch.” The town board wants the signs to help visitors find parking and important points.
• Hiring a new health-and-wellness director for the town. Town officials have said they were filling an existing vacancy in the parks department, and the town board, led by Margo Williams, had made wellness a top priority.
“Why do you have to fill a position and not just go without?” one audience member asked.
• Hiring a town public information officer, who also is creating and managing a town information calendar and helping launch a visitor website, which town commissioners consider part of the town’s economic development initiative.
The conversation returned more than once to the influence of the town’s staff, led by longtime Manager Leamon Brice.
Winegardner, who is challenging incumbent Mayor John Woods, serves on the planning board and recounted how he and other planning board members wanted to hear from CommunityONE Bank, which took control of the 170-acre Davidson East property through foreclosure. Town staff had recommended rezoning the site for retail-office-light industrial use, to create an “employment center” rather than another subdivision.
But CommunityONE objected, and at the recent planning board meeting, the town staff presented a compromise plan to allow residential, retail-office and light-industrial uses. But Winegardner said the staff wouldn’t give CommunityONE representatives 10 minutes to comment.
“I had a conversation with Leamon Brice and (town attorney) Rick Kline” afterward, Winegardner said. “Their position was they were trying to ensure the information going to the commission” was appropriate.
Planning board members decided to hold a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16, to hear the bank’s proposal for Davidson East.
Others at the meeting expressed concern about town finances. A man said he moved here from New Orleans four years ago, “and my property taxes here will probably be more than my tax bill in New Orleans. I’m just appalled.”
Davidson’s 35-cent property tax rate is the highest in North Mecklenburg.
The town’s finances are “really hurting my business,” said a woman, who identified herself as a real estate agent. “… This is what is concerning people thinking about moving here. I’m embarrassed by what is going on.”