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Foxx: Consolidation could ease budget woes

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx addressed the budget challenges he expects in 2011 and his plans to deal with them in a media briefing Friday morning.

In the first quarter of 2011, Foxx said he plans to have a conversation among regional leaders, including representatives from Mecklenburg County and its surrounding towns, about a proposed consolidation of city and county functions, which he said might alleviate some budget concerns in the future.

For immediate budget difficulties, though, Foxx said it was too soon to make predictions.

“It’s more art than science right now,” he said.

Although a recent study suggested that a full consolidation would not save a significant amount of money, Foxx said he wasn’t surprised.

He said consolidation would be helpful in bringing together the priorities of the city, county and towns and allocating resources as needed rather than the city building new roads while the county makes more teacher layoffs.

“That’s what people are going to see this year, because that’s the way government is structured,” Foxx said. “We’re not wrong within the governmental structure we have to try and put infrastructure into place, police officers and other things, but it’s a challenge when we talk about the entire community’s priorities and the entire community’s pocketbook.”

The upcoming budget crunch for fiscal 2011, which Foxx said will be even more painful than in 2010, is an example of why such action needs to be taken, he said. This year, he hopes to consolidate some functions of the city and county, including permitting and human resources, but plans to include the prospect of a full consolidation in the conversation.

But, he said, nothing beyond discussions might take place in 2011, partly because of opposition he expects from Charlotte residents, who make up 80 percent of the county’s population, to having their tax dollars distributed to neighboring towns.

“It is a long-term issue,” Foxx said. “I think if we pushed the ‘go’ button on it today, it would still take us several years to actually deploy it, but we will not get there if we don’t start talking about it and making some progress there.”

Foxx also addressed concerns about the Lynx Blue Line Extension, denying that the project was “dead in the water” as a result of the new Congress’ anti-earmark stance and the Senate’s failure to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill that included funds for the light-rail project.

Transit projects aren’t the kind of “pork” that members of Congress have been railing against, Foxx said. Since there are many other unfinished transit projects in cities around the country, he said he is optimistic that there will be other ways to get the projects funded but what those are aren’t yet clear.

“Congress needs to figure out how they’re going to get transit done,” Foxx said.

His optimism extended to Charlotte’s chances for the Democratic National Convention, which was supposed to make a decision on a city in December. Though there still is no word, Foxx denied any concerns that Charlotte’s chances were dimming.

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at caitlin.coakley@mecktimes.com.

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