City manager defends spending at local forum

Some south Charlotte residents are wondering if Charlotte’s new city manager will do a better job of dispersing taxpayers’ money throughout all areas of the city, asking when south Charlotte will start to get more attention.

New Charlotte city manager Ron Carlee spoke Tuesday, June 11, in Ballantyne for this month’s meeting of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, where he answered questions about the city budget drafted by previous city manager Curt Walton. Charlotte City Council approved the budget and capital improvement plan Monday, June 10, after more than a year of debate on the investment spending.

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents and potential city council candidates alike posed concerns about tax dollars supporting the now approved streetcar plan – a rail line that could eventually extend 10 miles near uptown Charlotte – and talks in Raleigh that could take control over Charlotte-Douglas International Airport away from the city.

But some south Charlotte residents asked if Carlee would work to bring more projects back to south Charlotte – a portion of the city that provides the bulk of the government’s tax base.

One south Charlotte resident quoted Carlee as saying he’s working to “share the wealth” to help improve the Charlotte community as a whole, something many residents see as a dead end.

“All of the money here is going to inside the 277-loop. That’s all we’ve seen,” one resident said. “When do we get to see some of that wealth back?”

But Carlee said the city is working to avoid financial desegregation and is making decisions based on creating an economically diverse and economically integrated community, the only way to eventually promote growth throughout the entire city that would one day allow other parts of the city to better share the tax burden.

“ … we are trying to bring development and jobs to all parts of our city,” Carlee said. “I believe in jobs first, so all people can be productive members of society. We are making decisions for the next generations.”

But other concerns lead back to the controversial streetcar project that bogged down last year’s budget talks. The project will provide another mass transit option in Charlotte and is aimed at connecting neighborhoods and businesses around Beatties Ford Road and Central Piedmont Community College’s Uptown campus while removing cars from the road.

Ken Lindholm, a south Charlotte resident who plans to run this year for the District 6 seat on Charlotte City Council, said his concerns with the streetcar project lie within the new-found funding.

“One of the things I didn’t like was part of the money being used (for the streetcar project) was savings from road projects this year. Why aren’t those funds being used for actual road projects?” Lindholm said.

But Carlee said that’s a sacrifice the county needs to make, and with any new project, “a dollar spent on this means a dollar not spent on something else,” he said. The streetcar project and Charlotte’s transit system and plan are reasons why Carlee decided to come to Charlotte, he said, adding adequate transportation outlets are essential to economic development.

“People like living in Charlotte. They like their quality of life, but are not satisfied. There is a sense of aspiration to be better,” Carlee said.

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