County leader mum on toll lanes
DAVIDSON – Trevor Fuller promoted opportunities for the public to support teacher raises and a smoking ban on government property, but he refused to weigh in on the state’s plans to install high occupancy toll lanes along the Lake Norman portion of Interstate 77.
Fuller, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, told constituents Aug. 18 at Davidson Town Hall that he didn’t know enough about the issue to answer questions intelligently.
“Primarily because it’s not a county function,” he said. “We just don’t have a dog in the fight.”
Residents press Fuller on toll lanes
Despite his role as chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Commission, Fuller said he knew “very little” about the HOT lanes proposed for I-77.
“I don’t want to say we are the caboose on the train, but we are certainly not leading the train,” he said of the MTC. “And so I think it would be inappropriate for us – we have enough to do than getting in someone else’s business.”
Davidson resident Vince Winegardner was among citizens encouraging Fuller to become educated on the issue, for reasons ranging from maintaining a high quality of life to recruiting new companies.
“We’re now asking you, sir, that you as an elected leader learn about this issue quickly and get this thing off our backs,” Winegardner said. “This is the wrong approach to widening that interstate.”
Fuller tried framing the issue within the state political context, noting there are more legislators from rural counties than there are in urban areas like Mecklenburg.
Residents pressed Fuller to divulge his personal stance on the toll lane project. Fuller wasn’t having it.
Davidson Mayor John Woods said the town has been trying to get the NCDOT to conduct a summit-style public meeting soon about the project’s progress.
“I think it’s your state legislators you need to talk to,” Woods told the crowd. “We argue with the state legislature and DOT as much as you can imagine.”
Teachers, tobacco and property values
Fuller explained an economic climate in which Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lost 1,000 teachers last year, citing pay as one of the main reasons they leave.
The state provides districts with teacher salaries, but counties have the option of adding a supplement to that base pay.
“Mecklenburg is among the highest. A lot of that is because we have a higher standard of living here,” Fuller said. “It costs more to live in Mecklenburg County, so if we’re going to remain competitive, we have to provide fairly high supplement to teacher salaries.”
County commissioners have approved a ballot referendum in November to levy an additional quarter percent to the county sales tax.
Proceeds from the hike will be used for teacher pay in CMS (80 percent), teacher pay in Central-Piedmont Community College (7.5 percent), Arts & Sciences Council (7.5 percent) and library system (5 percent).
Citizens asked Fuller about the county’s oversight of the CMS budget. Some described the school district as having an inefficient budget or being ineffective for training graduates for the workforce.
Fuller took a more diplomatic stance.
“The board of education is a separate elected body,” Fuller said. “You put them in charge. So we have to tread carefully when we are dealing with another governing body that you elected.”
County commissioners are also considering implementing a smoking ban on government property and tobacco product ban at parks. The proposed bans came from the results of the community health survey.
“What it revealed was the number one health issue facing our community was chronic disease,” he said. “And tobacco is a substantial contributor to that.”
He invited the public to attend a Sept. 2 public hearing on the measure.
Fuller also updated the community on the efforts to fix the property revaluation from 2011.
He noted that the financial hit taken through refunds from adjusted tax values hasn’t turned out to be as devastating as originally thought. County officials are nearly done reviewing all of the 355,000 parcels in Mecklenburg. And he anticipates they will be done with that process by the end of the calendar year.
Distressed areas of Mecklenburg
South Charlotte resident Jay Privette mentioned a Charlotte Observer story in which the number of residents living in distressed neighborhoods grew from one in 10 in 2000 to one in four to 2010.
“I happen to believe that has a lot to do with the fact that we’re the highest taxpayers in the Southeast,” said Privette, a former Charlotte City Council candidate.
Fuller pointed to the services offered by the county in favor of a higher quality of life.
He’s recruiting community leaders and volunteers for the Chairman’s Task Force on Poverty and Economic Mobility to examine poverty and how to address it.
Some residents used the community chat as an opportunity to ask about getting more resources for the west side of Davidson, in which one older African-American woman said comprised of “poor black people.”
A handful of Davidson residents wanted to see more town services, such as cutting grass and cleaning roads, to be employed on the western side of town.
Fuller deferred municipal complaints to Woods, who encouraged Davidson residents to attend the town’s quarterly community chats to discuss such issues. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 30.