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CHARLOTTE STORIES REVEAL SIMILARITIES, DIFFERENCES

Whenever I go to some other city, I'm sure to buy the local paper to see what's going on there. That's what old newsmen do, I suppose.

Recently, I was in Charlotte, N.C., for four days and enjoyed reading the Charlotte Observer, a pretty good paper. Here are some stories that attracted me. Some will have a familiar ring. Others won't. Make of them what you will.

In case you think the pork barrel is a local thing, North Carolina shows you're wrong. It develops that two top state legislators each have $5 million to spread around as they see fit without any review by anyone else and without competition. Another guy gets $600,000.

Apparently, the whole thing came to light when one of the leaders used $45,000 to put a political friend on the payroll in a job promoting historic sites. Now one of the other legislators (who has no pork to pass out) wants an audit.

An editorial laments that outlying counties -- facing great growth -- have failed to protect farmland and to require developers to set aside land for parks and are scrambling "to figure out how to build schools where voters punish politicians for raising taxes." New residents, it turns out, require more in services than they pay in taxes.

North Carolina spends $6,635 per pupil in its public schools compared with $12,140 in New York State, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Charlotte city government faces an estimated $21 million shortfall as its city manager readies a 2005-06 budget. A fee increase is being considered. But get this: Charlotte has not raised property taxes in 18 years. There may be more to that than meets the eye, however. Evidently, Mecklenburg County, which is mostly Charlotte, provides more than the usual municipal services. A columnist lambasted Democrats for taxes that pushed Charlotte-Mecklenburg into the rank of the highest-taxed area in North Carolina.

A large Pentecostal church hit the front page when it decided to stop sending money to a food pantry because the pantry also draws support from Catholics. A letter to the pantry said the church feels it "should abstain from any ministry that partners with or promotes Catholicism or, for that matter, any other denomination promoting a works-based salvation." The next day, the church reversed itself and announced funding would continue. But the church will not resume support for another agency that allowed three Muslim students to serve meals to the needy.

While business grows in the Charlotte area, don't think all is rosy down there. Springs Industry, a textile manufacturer, announced the layoff of 700 workers at a mill across the border in South Carolina. Springs is building a new plant in Mexico. Just 10 years ago, Springs employed more than 15,000 in the Carolinas. It's now 4,600. One bit of good news: The company is investing $10 million in a South Carolina plant.

The science museum has decided not to show "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" at its IMAX theater out of concern that the film's emphasis on evolution might offend those with "deeply held religious values."

Parents in a nearby school system are hot under the collar because the Board of Education has restricted its search for a new superintendent to one person on the current staff. Parents want a wider search.

George Gates is a retired editorial writer for The Buffalo News.