Charlotte’s budget moves forward, with tax increase to pay for capital projects
From The Charlotte Observer By Steve Harrison, May 29, 2013
One day after agreeing to fund a streetcar extension, the Charlotte City Council took another step Wednesday toward solving another issue that has left them deadlocked: approving a capital spending program.
Council members voted 9-2 to move forward with an $816 million capital program, which would require a 7.25 percent property tax increase. Wednesday’s vote was tentative, and council members must still take a formal budget vote June 10.
But it appears there is enough support to move forward with a tax increase that would go into effect in July – even in a year when council members are up for re-election.
Mayor Anthony Foxx implored council members to view their vote Wednesday as how they will vote in two weeks.
He was referring to a last-minute change last June, when a number of council members voted against the capital plan in a surprise vote. Last year, the main problem was over a proposal to fund a 2.5-mile streetcar extension with a property tax increase.
City Manager Ron Carlee this year pitched a different way to pay for the $126 million streetcar. He suggested the city apply for a $63 million federal grant, and also use $63 million in local funds, mostly through surpluses. Carlee stressed that the streetcar extension won’t require a property tax increase, and that the local share won’t come from existing property taxes.
That pledge helped convince Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, a Democrat, to vote for the streetcar Monday. Cannon had previously opposed the streetcar because it would be paid for with a property tax increase. Democrat Beth Pickering – who had previously been against the streetcar – also voted for it.
With the streetcar settled, there was little controversy at Wednesday’s budget meeting.
If the 7.25 percent property tax increase is approved, the owner of a house with a taxable value of $200,000 would pay an additional $63.40 a year in city property taxes. The city tax rate would increase by 3.17 cents to 46.86 cents per $100 of home value. All of the tax increase would go to the capital plan, not the city’s operating budget.
The city’s capital program would pay for new roads, sidewalks, bridges, affordable housing and police stations, among other improvements. The city would ask voters to approve bonds in November 2014 to pay for the projects. There also would be referendums scheduled for 2016, 2018 and 2020.
If the public rejects the bonds, the tax increase would remain, unless council members rescinded it.
Water and sewer bills and stormwater fees are also increasing; a typical homeowner could pay $25 more per year.
In addition, Mecklenburg County has proposed a 2.5-cent property tax increase. For the owner of a $200,000 home, the county tax hike would add $50 per year.
The meeting Wednesday was held to take so-called “straw votes” on a number of proposed changes to the budget. Most of the proposed changes to the budget were rejected.
• Democrat James Mitchell withdrew his proposal to cut $15 million from a $35 million cross-county trail for bikes and pedestrians.
• Council members voted to allow Carlee to study creating an intern program from council members to help with constituent’s emails and phone calls. Mitchell had proposed creating either a 20-hour or 40-hour a week program.
• Council members also decided to keep three new positions designed to help shape the city’s new hiring program that targets businesses owned by women and minorities.
• The proposed budget keeps $2 million to help fund a new rental-assistance program that’s being created with the Foundation for the Carolinas. The program is intended to help families get out of being homeless.
Republicans Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin voted against the proposed budget.