by Mike Parks
South Charlotte’s representatives on city council found enough support Monday night, June 11, to strike down a massive proposed tax increase that just days earlier looked sure to pass, leaving Mayor Anthony Foxx stunned and angry over what he called a “disgusting” decision by the board.
Foxx lectured council shortly after the vote against $926.4 million in capital improvement projects, saying the six who voted against the 8.26 percent tax increase that would fund the projects were endangering Charlotte with the “most irresponsible decision that I’ve seen the city council make in history.”
Council separated two parts of the budget out for discussion Monday night: one portion which called for a tax increase of 3.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value, and the other outlining $4.1 billion in capital investment projects, of which the $926.4 million tied to the tax increase was included. The proposals would have increased the city’s property tax rate to 47.3 cents per $100.
Council voted 6-5 to kill those two segments out of the budget.
The vote was greeted with cheers from many in the crowd Monday night, some of which flashed signs to council urging them to vote down the tax increase. A number of residents from south Charlotte were in attendance to continue their push against the proposal after it was revealed earlier this year that the south Charlotte area pays nearly 50 percent of residential property taxes. However, the $926 million worth of projects would only pay for two police headquarters, an extension of Park South Drive near SouthPark Mall and a portion of the Cross Charlotte Multi-Use Trail in south Charlotte. The other projects are in the north, east and west.
Foxx seemed blindsided by the vote, telling council members they should have made their opposition to the tax increase known earlier so more discussion could have taken place before Monday’s vote.
“Frankly, I wish we had had this debate over the several meetings that we’ve had to talk about this budget,” Foxx said. “… I think we need to just defer and take another two weeks and figure this out. … If we don’t have a budget that can get six votes, we are in some trouble as a city.”
His remarks were likely aimed at his four fellow Democrats who joined Republicans Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin, both of south Charlotte, in voting against the proposal.
Cooksey and Dulin have been speaking out against the projects and tax increase since they were first proposed earlier this year, with Cooksey offering an alternative proposal to the tax increase at the budget straw poll meeting late last month that was mostly ignored. But council sided 9-2 in favor of the budget and tax increase at that meeting, with Cooksey and Dulin voting against.
In voting against the tax hike Monday, the four Democrats said they’d like to see these capital improvements, just at another time when homeowners are in better shape.
“I just think it’s a terrible time and I’ve looked at the totality of what our citizens are facing currently,” Councilwoman Beth Pickering said. “If not for (the property tax revaluation) I might be voting for this (investment plan) tonight. I just think folks need time to absorb … and recover from the blows that they’ve taken.”
Added Councilwoman Claire Fallon, “If this were another time, I’d be more than happy to approve it. If you give me two years and the economy improves, I have no problem. … I just don’t have it in my heart to burden anybody with anything more. There are so many people out of work and on the edge and I will not push anybody over an edge.”
Councilman David Howard, who voted in favor of the tax increase, said now’s the time to do it with the county having dropped their tax rate for next year. That would lessen the impact of Charlotte’s tax increase and stop the city from kicking “the can down the road” and focus on the “different things we need to do to improve this community.”
But Dulin said he’s not interested in what the county is doing. His focus is strictly on Charlotte’s plans.
“Whether it’s 1 percent or 8 percent, it’s more than I’m willing to vote for,” Dulin said, adding he wants to make Charlotte a place people want to live. “I don’t want them jumping across to Fort Mill. And it’s easy to do. And I want them staying right here.”
Cooksey offered a counter proposal Monday night to approve the rest of the capital investment projects – some $3.6 billion in work – that isn’t tied to a tax increase. But, as it did at the late May straw poll, the idea got no traction other than from Dulin.
Dulin pushed to approve the rest of the budget, which included an increase in storm water fees, an increase in pay for city employees, funds for job-training programs and providing domestic partner benefits. But Foxx said nothing should be done until the council can come together on setting a tax rate for the next fiscal year, recommending the discussion be continued until another vote June 25.
Dulin told the mayor that if he thought the delay would result in an eventual 8.26 percent tax increase being approved by council, he was mistaken.
“We’ve just made a vote, whether everyone at the dais agreed with that vote or not, that vote was taken,” Dulin said. “And what’s the idea of coming back in two weeks? Looking for a different outcome of the same vote? Cause that vote’s behind us now.”
Council eventually voted to send the budget back to committee, where the group will attempt to find something enough members can agree on to get it passed June 25.
Otherwise, council will have to scramble to get something in place by the end of June, when either a 2012-13 budget must be passed or an emergency extension be put in place. A budget workshop is scheduled for noon Thursday, June 14.
Along with Cooksey and Dulin, Michael Barnes, Patrick Cannon, Claire Fallon and Beth Pickering voted against the tax increase. John Autry, David Howard, Patsy Kinsey and LaWana Mayfield voted in favor.
Airport/West Corridor (Total: $43 million)
Spine Dixie-Berryhill Infrastructure – $30 million
Southern Dixie-Berryhill Infrastructure – $13 million
East/Southeast Corridor (Total: $92 million)
Land acquisition, street connections – $25 million
Monroe Road streetscape – $10 million
Bojangles/Ovens area redevelopment – $25 million
Public/private redevelopment options – $20 million
Idlewild Road/Monroe Road intersection – $4 million
Sidewalk and bikeway improvements – $8 million
Northeast Corridor (Total: $170 million)
Research Drive – $15 million
University Pointe Connection – $14.5 million
Northeast Corridor Infrastructure – $102.5 million
Applied Innovation Corridor – $28 million
UNCC Informatics and Innovation – $10 million
Road/Infrastructure Projects (Total: $24.9 million)
Prosperity Church Road NW Arc – $5 million
Eastern Circumferential/railroad bridge – $11.6 million
Park South Drive extension – $8.3 million
Cross Charlotte Multi-Use Trail – $35 million
Streetcar extension – $119 million
Sidewalks and pedestrian safety – $60 million
Traffic control and bridges – $48 million
Upgrade traffic signal system – $34 million
Repair and replace bridges – $14 million
Public Safety Facilities (Total: $124.5 million)
Joint communications center – $64 million
Six police division stations – $56.5 million
Land for future fire stations – $4 million
Maintenance facilities – $30 million
Affordable housing – $60 million
Comprehensive Neighborhood Improvement Program (Total: $120 million)
Prosperity – $30 million
Whitehall – $30 million
West Trade/Rozelles Ferry – $20 million
Central – $20 million
Sunset – $20 million