As county budget takes shape, some commissioners want more money directed to address disparities

With the outbreak of the coronavirus, health and economic disparities have re-emerged as focal point among advocates for the poor.
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As Mecklenburg commissioners work to forge a budget for the next fiscal year, more money may be heading to address some of the county’s racial and economic disparities.

On Tuesday, at-large commissioner Trevor Fuller proposed a series of budgetary changes that would steer more county dollars toward programs that address hunger, health disparities, gun violence and job training for displaced workers.

Those changes were approved in a straw-vote session that resumes today.

Earlier this month, County Manager Dena Diorio had proposed a $1.9 billion budget that would increase county spending for fiscal year 2021 by $5.6 million, or 0.3 percent, over the current fiscal year. Diorio did not recommend a tax increase to pay for the additional spending.

With Tuesday’s straw vote, Diorio is directed to make spending adjustments to her initial plan without raising taxes or increasing the total budget amount.

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Fuller could not be reached for comment in time for this article, but commissioner Mark Jerrell of District 4, who voted to support the proposed changes, said Fuller’s budget amendments reflect the board’s priorities and what commissioners are hearing from residents.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus, which disproportionately impacted Black and Latino communities, health and economic disparities have re-emerged as focal point among advocates for the poor.

Jerrell said the changes approved in the straw vote should not be viewed as a commentary on the budget proposed by Diorio.

“It is up to us [elected officials] to make sure that we are being responsive to our constituents and what we’re hearing in the community,” he said. “We are boots on the ground. We should all have our ears to the ground, so the budget has to reflect the needs of the people from our perspective.” 

Some of Fuller’s proposed changes include:

  • $3 million to address hunger and food deserts, especially along a geographic arc known as the crescent.
  • $320,250 to support a county program to reduce gun violence. This would include a study to address gun violence as a public health matter.
  • $2 million to reduce racial disparities in health care. More money would be allocated to the county’s Village HeartBEAT program, which works with churches to reduce chronic health conditions in Black and Latino communities; to reduce the incidence of women who die during childbirth, which disproportionately impacts Black women; to address the social determinants of health, such as housing, transportation and nutrition counseling.
  • $2 million to provide job training for displaced, working-class residents. The training would focus on high-demand fields, such as health care.
  • $2 million for parks and recreational facilities in historically underserved communities.
  • $75,000 to employ teens through the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps, where youths ages 16-18 would spend eight weeks during the summer building trails and improving parks.

Fuller also proposed spending $1 million to support community organizations working to address social and economic issues, a reduction from the $1.3 million proposed under the county manager’s budget. His proposal also would instruct the county manager to consider organizations in addition to United Way of Central Carolinas to administer those dollars.

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Commissioners are scheduled to adopt a 2021 budget on June 2, and it would take effect July 1.

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