Despite the difficult economy, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said he “cannot think of another city in the United States that has had such success in the past year.”
In his first ”State of the City” address Tuesday, Foxx ticked off positives, such as the city’s receipt of Energy Conservation Block Grants, relocations of businesses such as Electrolux and accomplishments that he and City Council members have made, such as reworking the city’s 2030 transit plan and creating groups, such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing.
But difficult times lie ahead, he said.
“The year that’s passed has been a good year in terms of working hard and preparing the city for the future,” he said. “But we have more work to do. The public sector is now going to get into the most challenging ripple effects of the economy.”
Foxx said that the city must focus on three Cs: consolidation, collaboration and children.
Foxx would like to see consolidation of some functions of city and county government, particularly permitting but also human resources, fire and medic and government communications departments. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has already agreed to look at those four areas. The struggle, Foxx said, will be in getting the short-staffed county to allocate resources to study the issue.
“I’m sympathetic to the fact that they’ve had some layoffs,” he said. “But it’s precisely at this time that we need to get the conversation started around consolidation.” He said he hopes to begin discussing a full consolidation of government functions with the county and surrounding towns.
Regional collaboration, particularly when it comes to developing a transit plan, will be the key to getting some of the scarce federal resources available for transit projects, Foxx said, echoing what U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during his visit to Charlotte last month.
Efforts must also be made to improve education and support children, Foxx said, pointing to national studies that rank the U.S. 11th among industrialized nations when it comes to the number of children graduating high school, 16th in college graduation rates and 48th for the quality of kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
“In my country, in my city, we don’t take second place,” Foxx said. “We don’t take 11th place, we don’t take 16th place and we don’t take 48th place.”
Foxx said he intends to talk to the City Council about restoring city funding for school-related spending, such as crossing guards and police officers who work in the schools, in order to try and get that money back in the budget.
“Now is not the time … to take away that funding,” Foxx said.
He also suggested creating a competitive grant process in which a committee of experts would evaluate after-school programs to determine which ones should get public funds based on their potential success.
Caitlin Coakley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.