Part 1: Making the Case
We interrupt the ridiculousness parade for a sober discussion about Lake Norman’s future.
Last week’s stunning Brexit vote has many here wondering: is it time for the Lake Norman towns to secede from Mecklenburg County?
Though an ocean apart and orders of magnitude greater, the Brexit decision nevertheless carries parallels. For instance, Britons felt they lost sovereignty to the EU. Looking deeper into this, it’s difficult to argue. The EU employs over 50,000, all of them unelected bureaucrats. If you stacked all the EU regulations the paper tower would reach over 170 feet! Some examples: the EU forbids recycling of tea bags, limits the power of vacuum cleaner motors, and prohibits children under the age of 8 from inflating balloons.
On our side of the pond we’ve seen LKN’s autonomy usurped by the City of Charlotte, most notably on the all-important Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO). Charlotte’s one delegate counts for 46% of the vote. With two NCDOT Divisions comprising another 4%, if Charlotte and NCDOT agree on something (anything), it passes CRTPO.
You may recall that’s exactly what happened earlier this year when Lake Normanites begged the Charlotte City Council to vote against NCDOT’s demand for approval of the “managed lanes strategy.” Folks from the region sent hundreds of emails and 12,000+ petition signatures. Forty residents made the trek to uptown and spoke for three hours.
And Charlotte flipped LKN the political equivalent of the bird.
(Subsequently the CRTPO vote has widely- and wrongly- been characterized as a vote in support of the I-77 toll contract.)
Like the I-77 toll issue, the Remain camp employed fear mongering. The youth vote, overwhelmingly Remain, was mainly concerned with who would pay for their free stuff if EU subsidies were eliminated. What these young folks didn’t realize was their parents voted to remain back in 1975. They grew up. They grew wiser. And, with a broader perspective of seeing one encroachment after another, forty years later decided they’d had enough.
In the same way we’ve had NCDOT give apocalyptic warnings should the toll contract be cancelled. First it might cost $100M. Then $200M. Then $300M. Last week they told the NC Senate the number was $800M, or $150M more than the contract was worth in the first place. It would affect all 73 highway projects currently planned across North Carolina. And, like the youth of Britain, those uninformed or uninvolved or unaffected bought into the fear campaign.
We’re looking at you, Charlotte, Matthews, Mint Hill.
We can expect similar fear mongering once Lake Norman County talks gain traction. (Serious traction probably won’t happen until 2019 when the next county-wide property revals are due.) Part of that campaign will no doubt be dire predictions about cost.
But the reality is LKN is a net source of funds for Mecklenburg County. For instance, LKN towns annually collect around $4M for the half-cent transit sales tax, but in return the region receives expanded bus service at a cost of a couple hundred thousand.
And, according to a 2012 analysis, Lake Norman schools are also a net source of funding for CMS to the tune of about $1000 per student per year. (It’s difficult to come up with an exact number because CMS budgets are based on programs, not schools. Thus determining the budget for, say, Hough High is nearly impossible without extensive analysis.) With ~20,000 LKN students, that’s a hefty $20M subsidy every year. Remember, that’s in addition to normal school operating costs.
In other words, if we peeled off the LKN schools we would have $20M more to spend on our schools than what’s being spent in the region today. Or we could lower tax rates commensurately.
Thus the biggest fiscal question facing a new LKN county is not sufficient tax revenues to cover operating expenses, but rather the capital costs for building the required government infrastructure (courts, sheriff stations, council chambers, administrative offices, etc).
When fear didn’t work the Remain camp tried love: a vote to remain was in support of multi-culturalism and immigration. The not-so-subtle implication was those voting to leave were hateful and xenophobic. Of course, Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance and the legislature’s reaction have created similar recriminations and accusations. LKN neither wanted nor asked for such a debacle.
Issues and Challenges
Since it was formed in the 1960’s Lake Norman’s destiny has been inextricably tied Charlotte. But as we’ve seen over the past year the two regions are now on different political, economic and strategic trajectories. The principles of self-determination, freedom, and taxation with representation compel us to make our own destiny.
Like Britain, such a future is fraught with uncertainty. North Carolina has not had a new county in a hundred years, and since then government services have expanded dramatically. Today NC spends about $5,000 tax dollars per capita. Just thirty years ago the number was $2,000, adjusting for inflation.
So the average North Carolinian consumes two and a half times the government services of a generation ago. Creating an entirely new county is a daunting process indeed.
The question is where to begin?