City hears public budget concerns

Charlotte residents got a chance this week to give input on the city’s proposed budget and capital improvement plan as Charlotte City Council prepares for its straw vote.

Residents spoke both against city spending and in favor of more city spending at a budget public forum Monday, May 13, giving council members more to think about as they mull over possible changes to the proposed 2013-14 fiscal budget and $816.4 million capital investment plan. The straw vote, scheduled for May 28, a Tuesday, will see council members give their unofficial vote on pieces of the budget proposal and could foreshadow the final budget vote, scheduled for June 10, and possible 3.17-cent tax increase.

A number of residents at Monday night’s meeting asked council to consider a 5 percent pay raise across the board for city workers, a goal championed by members of the city’s water and sewer department as a means of offsetting quality of life cost increases.

“These are the people who make our city run, and they helped Charlotte look good during the (Democratic National Convention),” one woman said at the forum. “They deserve a 5 percent raise…”

Others argued the city ought not add a tax increase while people are still struggling to make ends meet.

“I’m terribly disappointed that our main focus is not on getting people back to work,” said James Peterson, a failed council at-large candidate in last year’s election. “We don’t need to be raising taxes and cost of living on a community that is still struggling to make ends meet.”

Wayne Powers, who also failed in his bid to join council last year, lectured council members on fiscal responsibility in regard to the proposed tax increase.

“Not one voice on that dais even mentioned the possibility of cutting spending on anything, heaven forbid reducing taxes on our already over-burdened citizens and businesses.”

Councilman Michael Barnes, chairman of the city’s budget committee, said people should look at the proposed budget and capital investment plan as a means for the city to get to a point where both the tax rate and quality of life issues have improved.

“I recognize that the cost of living continues to go up and people have limited budgets,” Barnes said Monday. “I understand that – I do, too. But as we try to grow the city that we live in and we love, it will be important that we invest in it. And within this budget are six police stations, there are sidewalks, there are road connections… the cross-Charlotte trail alone will generate … economic development and improve people’s property values.”

The goal of the capital improvement plan is to, through infrastructure projects and spending across Charlotte, improve struggling neighborhoods and more evenly spread the tax base across the city. Currently, south Charlotte takes the brunt of property taxes.

The capital improvement plan, as discussed, would bring a new police station to south Charlotte for the potential split of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department South Division, which covers the city south of Fairview Road. The plan also would pay for an extension of Park South Drive and for a multi-use trail.

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