• Meck County commissioners consider expanding access to universal Pre-K

    By: Mark Barber , Joe Bruno


    MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. - Mecklenburg County commissioners are spending the next couple days going over their budget priorities at their annual retreat.

    A priority of the board is to expand access to early childhood education.

    [RELATED: New Meck. Co. board of commissioners to use taxpayer money for out-of-town retreat]

    In a presentation, county staff told commissioners it will cost an additional $23.6 million to expand universal Pre-K. A funding source has not been identified but when asked about options, staff cited last year’s property tax increase.

    Staff told commissioners soda and cigarette taxes were explored but not found to be viable.

    Proposed topics on Wednesday's agenda:

    • Early childhood education
    • Parks and recreation
    • Capital projects

    With a 9-0 Democratic Mecklenburg County Commission, universal Pre-K and its potential cost experienced no pushback.

    “If we don't do it today, it will never get done,” Commissioner Vilma Leake said.

    [RELATED: Newly sworn-in commissioners face major tasks ahead]

    Last year, county commissioners raised taxes by ¾ of a cent to fund early childhood education for 600 children.

    The $23.6 million would allow 648 more children to attend Pre-K, and it would require 36 more classrooms. The $23.6 million includes funding for a talent development program and child care subsidies.

    “Our county manager is going to have to work to figure out how to pay for this,” Commissioner Trevor Fuller said. “But I believe we ought to pay for it.”

    County Manager Dena Diorio did not present funding options at the retreat Wednesday.

    Commissioner Susan Harden asked commissioners to compare the universal Pre-K request to what the county was prepared to offer Amazon for HQ2. County staff informed her and the commission the county was prepared to offer $190 million but said it is not a direct comparison.

    “When we talk about investments and you see that $24 million, you think about what we were going to do for companies like Amazon. I just wanted to put that in perspective,” Harden said.

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