Council members favor 8.26% increase in preliminary vote despite call for alternatives
by Mike Parks
Despite south Charlotte representatives on Charlotte City Council urging the group to not raise property taxes this year, the city’s governing body looks near to approving the 2012-13 fiscal budget and accompanying 8.26 percent tax increase.
Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton has proposed a $926.4 million capital investment plan that would pump money into struggling neighborhoods, paying for improvements that Walton hopes will eventually lure in businesses into east, north and west Charlotte. The plan’s goal is to improve these neighborhoods to the point they eventually carry a bigger piece of the tax burden, as the south Charlotte area currently pays almost 50 percent of the city’s residential property tax.
But Charlotte City Councilman Warren Cooksey, who represents the Ballantyne area, doesn’t agree with Walton’s theory of “if we build it, they will come” in terms of improving infrastructure to the point businesses want to flock to Charlotte, if that’s going to be done on the backs of taxpayers.
Cooksey wants the city to consider alternate methods of funding, instead of raising taxes a year after much of south Charlotte saw a property tax increase by means of the much maligned property revaluation.
“My call for additional study of the additions to the (capital investment plan) boils down to this: one of the stated purposes of the additions is to increase property values in certain parts of the city,” Cooksey wrote in an email. “However, there is no attempt to use this increased value directly to help fund the additions.”
Cooksey would like to see something like the private-public partnership that’s formed in his district between the county, city and Bissell Companies. The synthetic tax increment financing proposal, which was unanimously supported by members of city council and the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, will see Bissell Companies plan, manage, build and pay for $11 million in road improvements in Ballantyne. The work includes improvements at the intersections of Ballantyne Commons Parkway with North Community House Road and Johnston Road, and the intersections of John J. Delaney Drive with Brixham Hall Drive and Johnston Road. Part of that work is an $8.5 million bridge on North Community House Road over Interstate 485 that Bissell Companies will pay to build when the North Carolina Department of Transportation expands the highway in south Mecklenburg.
The company said these improvements are vital to growing the massive business park, and offered to pay for the projects in exchange for a shot at recovering the $11 million over a 15-year period. Starting in 2015, Bissell Companies will start receiving 45 percent of the taxes generated from an increase in tax values associated with the corporate park. Repayment can only occur if net tax values rise during the 15-year period. The deal ends either by 2030, or when Bissell Companies makes back the $11 million. If 2030 arrives and the company hasn’t made back its money, they’re out the rest.
Cooksey wants to see potential or current businesses in east, north and west Charlotte – an area being referred to as the city’s crescent – foot part of the bill if they want infrastructure improvements, much like Bissell Companies is doing. However, that idea fell on mostly deaf ears when Cooksey brought up his proposal recently to council.
Not considering such a private-public partnership “seems to introduce a paradox,” Cooksey said in an email. “If none of the projects increase property values enough to help fund them, then how will they increase property values enough to justify the money spent on them?”
While Cooksey doesn’t want to see a tax increase now mostly due to the property tax revaluation, some in south Charlotte have said they don’t want to pay for projects that for the most part won’t be in their neighborhoods. Of the $926.4 million that would be raised through the tax increase, the only projects coming to south Charlotte are two police stations, an extension of Park South Drive near SouthPark Mall and a portion of the Cross Charlotte Multi-Use Trail.
A number of south Charlotte residents turned out last month at a public hearing to voice their displeasure with the proposed tax increase.
“In a perfect world I’d stand here and urge you to cut taxes to jump start the economy and attract more companies and families to Charlotte, but I know that’s unrealistic,” said one man, who lives in the SouthPark area, at the meeting. “So today I urge you to keep taxes flat. As much as you want these projects I urge you to show restraint. This tax burden will hit all spectrums of Charlotte. It’s not just south Charlotte that will be hit by these taxes. … Focus on what Charlotte really needs, to be a affordable place to live and do business.”
City council likely will vote on the budget at their June 11 meeting. SouthPark-area representative Andy Dulin has also voiced opposition to the tax increase.
A breakdown of proposed capital improvements
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