What the Democratic sweep means for Mecklenburg County

What the Democratic sweep means for Mecklenburg County
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For the first time in decades, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners will be controlled by a single party.

Democrats swept all 9 seats on the county board, ousting three incumbents in suburban, traditionally conservative districts: Jim Puckett, Bill James and Matthew Ridenhour.

On the surface, you might not expect this to have a significant impact. After all, Democrats already had a firm majority on the board.

But the departure of any GOP presence from the dais will likely mean more than you think. Here are five things to watch now that Democrats have unanimous control.

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1) Higher property taxes will be on the table.

Mecklenburg County is finishing up a property tax revaluation that will see values rise by huge percentages across the board. The commissioners will soon have a choice: lowering tax rates to keep revenue the same and the individual tax burden lower, or maintaining the tax rate.

Democrats have generally favored using the revaluation to raise taxes. The three Republicans had favored a revenue neutral rate.

It’s likely that taxes would have gone up some regardless. But the three Republicans were generally good at using their influence to moderate some of their colleagues’ decisions. Chances are that a Republican or two on the board would have helped keep taxes lower.

What will the money be used for? It’s not certain, but likely to include a huge investment in public preschool for 4-year-olds and could potentially include a larger chunk of money for education.

The latter isn’t definite, though. The county commissioners have historically sparred with the school board and have different visions for spending money.

2) Decisions will be made faster.

The county board’s Republicans were good at blowing the whistle and slowing down the process when some deal didn’t make sense for taxpayers. Exhibit A: The Major League Soccer stadium proposal for county land in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

3) There will be less support for charter schools.

Commissioner Jim Puckett, in particular, was an advocate for charter schools and made sure they got the money they deserved from the county. N.C. Democrats in political office have opposed charter schools vociferously and could try to starve them with whatever levers they have.

4) Will constituents receive the same communication?

The three Republican commissioners — Puckett, Bill James and Matthew Ridenhour — were prolific writers and social media users, keeping the people of Mecklenburg County informed. With the exception of commissioner Pat Cotham, Democrats on the board have publicly said much less, which could keep voters in the dark.

5) Infighting will reach a peak.

Who gets to be the chair of the Board of County Commissioners is always fight, and some folks would form a coalition with Republicans to win the seat. This helped Puckett get the vice chairman position two years ago. Without these coalitions, Democratic infighting could reach a new high.

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