by: Jenna Deery Updated:
Mecklenburg County commissioners argued late into the night Tuesday about cutting and raising taxes to approve a $1.5 billion budget.
Commissioners approved the budget unanimously that would allow for 2 percent pay raises for the 991 teachers the county funds, but the board voted to put it in restricted contingency -- or on hold -- until state lawmakers decide how much the state will allocate for teacher pay raises.
In a surprise move, Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour proposed cutting property taxes by a penny from 81.57 cents to 80.57 cents and reducing more than $11 million from the county's debt services funding to support the cut.
Cutting taxes was discussed at the board's retreat at the beginning of the year because of a foreseen surplus in revenue.
Ridenhour promised it would not affect education funding, but board Democrats wouldn't support it.
"It grieves me if we talk about taking a penny -- a penny from my teachers and my educators. I can't do it," said Commissioner Vilma Leake.
All board Democrats except Commissioner At-Large Pat Cotham voted against the tax cut. They argued they couldn't cut taxes when teachers need higher pay.
"I think the proper place is not to give people money for additional hamburger or two, it's to try to compensate teacher," said Board Chairman Trevor Fuller.
Instead, the board passed a motion to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent increase to sales taxes to raise it to 7.5 percent -- tied for the highest in the state.
It would generate an extra $34 million in revenue and it was said during the meeting that 80 percent of that, which translates to $28 million, would go toward teacher pay.
The other 20 percent would go toward libraries, Central Piedmont Community College and the Arts and Science Council.
The vote on the sales tax increase will be on the ballot in November. It's the same ballot that will ask voters to approve spending $145 million on city improvement projects.
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