Consolidation moved to back burner

by Andrew Batten

Several areas where county and Charlotte leaders wanted to pursue consolidation may prove unfruitful, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones told commissioners in a recent memo.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and County Commission Chairman Jennifer Roberts began discussing consolidation after county residents realized they use Charlotte services but don’t have a voice in regard to how those services are run.

The most notable issue was when residents in north Mecklenburg started experiencing higher-than-usual water bills, Roberts has said. Those residents found that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities is run by the city but those who use the utility outside of Charlotte have no say in how it’s run.

Both Foxx and Roberts said that consolidation should first focus on merging the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg’s Board of County Commissioners, but in the meantime, the City Council and Mecklenburg County Commissioners directed city and county staff to investigate consolidation in MEDIC, permitting services, government television and human resources.

But Jones has said consolidating those areas would provide little benefit to county residents. After a discussion with Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton, Jones said both agreed to defer consideration of those items until next fiscal year.


MEDIC

The county’s ambulance service, MEDIC, is operated by the county under an agreement between the city, Carolinas Healthcare System and Presbyterian/Novant Healthcare System. The number of agencies involved does not lend well to consolidation, Jones said.

“Exploring potential consolidation of MEDIC and fire services would be a complex and extremely time-consuming process because it involves four government agencies, a private nonprofit organization and a system that is currently operating at high levels of effectiveness and efficiency,” Jones said.

However, the county should investigate how it funds volunteer fire departments, Jones added. The county funds a portion of each fire department’s operations but Jones wants to create Fire Protection Service Districts, one each for extraterritorial jurisdiction of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Mint Hill and Pineville. Each town would have the option to include its corporate limits in those districts.

The districts would fund the full cost of fire protection service through a service district tax.

“Given the significant change required for this project and given the number of other initiatives already on our plate at this moment, broadening the scope of this project or adding another project to consider consolidating MEDIC and fire services should be tabled until next fiscal year, ” Jones said.

Permitting

Mecklenburg County’s Code Enforcement Division is already a consolidated entity serving Mecklenburg County and Charlotte in providing building plans review, permitting and building inspections.

“Therefore, the only permitting service where consolidation might be considered is in land development plans review permitting currently managed and provided by the City of Charlotte within the city limits. Since the County’s land development services are operated to be 100 percent fee-funded, there would be no taxpayer savings that would result from consolidation.”

Government television

The county already spends very little in government television programming, Jones said. The only cost associated with this service is a total of $74,000 paid by the Public Service & Information Department to televise the Board of County Commissioners meetings. The county also spends less than $150,000 in staff costs in video and television production. Most of the staff resources are used to develop video for the web to communicate with county employees and residents.

“These costs would not be eliminated through consolidation,” Jones said. In addition, given the relatively small investment being made in this area, it is not a productive use of staff time to undertake a review of this area.”

The Public Service & Information Department’s budget has been reduced by more than $1.4 million in the last year.

“Essentially, there is very little left to cut in TV programming,” Jones said. “In short, it would not be a fruitful or productive use of staff time to pursue consolidation of government TV programming when there is very little activity and few resources associated with Mecklenburg County government TV programming.”

Human resources

Over the past two years, the county’s Human Resources Department has been cut by approximately 21 percent, just more than $1 million. Staffing has been reduced by 28 percent.

“In short, we have already cut much more than what would typically and realistically be cut in any consolidation with the City of Charlotte,” Jones said.

County staff has also recommended that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library’s human resources be consolidated with the county’s Human Resources Department. That would save taxpayers approximately $137,000 a year. If that consolidation occurs, it would be necessary to allow at least a year for the change to be implemented.

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