Frustrated taxpayers unveil start of blueprint for leaving Charlotte
by Mike Parks
If a large chunk of south Charlotte is to break away from the Queen City’s tax grip, is this how they’ll do it?
SMART, the South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers, laid out its plans last week for creating the town of Providence. The southern town would be created from pieces of neighborhoods south of Center City – a place the group says has sucked up too much tax money for projects SMART deems wasteful.
“We don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes,” said Tim Timmerman, an advocate with SMART. But the group feels it’s been a long time since south Charlotte paid anything but way too much of a share of anything. “If the city tomorrow came back and said … ‘We’ll cut spending; we’re going to listen to the voice of south Mecklenburg…’ is that a success? Yes. Does that mean that we’re not going to keep pushing as hard on making a town? Maybe, maybe not.”
South Charlotte is “a diverse (area) … and it needs to have its identity recognized and things balanced accordingly,” Timmerman said. Providence would be immune of streetcar projects and paying for an overburdened school system, group members say, but knowing whether that can actually come to be is likely some time down the road.
But that’s not to say things aren’t moving quickly. SMART first met in October at the Raintree Country Club, and less than a year later is moving forward on a plan group leaders say could establish a fledgling town council for Providence by mid-August. That council would then lead the push on creating the town.
“We’ve already got a bunch of volunteers who want to be on the council,” Timmerman said. Timmerman says he’s seen interest from homeowners in 30 different large communities, as far north as Myers Park and all the way south to the state and county line. Each community could have a member on the town council. As of Tuesday, June 19, six volunteers were in place.
“(We) want this thing to grow and be something that everyone can buy into and make sense,” Timmerman said. The group hasn’t established firm boundaries for the new town yet, but that’s something Timmerman said the town council would have to start on in August. In his view it could stretch from Pineville to Matthews/Mint Hill and everything south of Myers Park. Others have suggested setting the boundary at McAlpine Creek and de-annexing everything south of there from Charlotte.
With the council in place and boundaries forming, then is when Timmerman said the real work will begin. The Providence council will work to establish volunteer funding and contract support with private businesses; establish a tax rate and come up with a budget; create contacts with city and county staff, as Providence would have to work closely with Charlotte and Mecklenburg County on everything from water and sewer to police and fire protection; and reach out to state and national leaders. They also have to decide if they even want to be called Providence. Many things are still up in the air.
That’s why the most important step right now and as things move forward could simply be educating residents on what Providence is and why they might like to be a part of it.
“What do people out here want?” Timmerman said. He and others in SMART have studied the town charters of around 30 other towns to get an idea of where to go with Providence, but Timmerman knows no two towns are the same.
“Maybe we can start recognizing the diversity in the way people have settled around this town and celebrate it and take advantage of it,” he said.
For now, Timmerman and SMART plan to step out of the spotlight, roll up their sleeves and start working on forming the town council. He doesn’t expect another public meeting from them on Providence until the first town council meeting in August.
And while the group remains focused on creating a new town, members aren’t forgetting a number of other issues that keep them up at night. One of which is the county’s property tax revaluation, and members continue to send out weekly emails on the process and the pending revaluation audit. The group also is working with SPARK in north Mecklenburg to split Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools into three, smaller districts. And, since Day 1, it continues to try and educate south Charlotte voters on their local government and show them what impact they can have.
Find more information on SMART at the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/12.smart.