Area leaders to discuss roads, budgets in Ballantyne

State, county and city officials will discuss three Ballantyne favorites at a public forum this weekend: traffic, taxes and schools.

The Ballantyne Breakfast Club will welcome N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, county budget expert Michael Bryant, city budget expert Randy Harrington and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison to a meeting Saturday, April 12, at 9 a.m. at the Ballantyne Hotel, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy. The public is invited to come prepared with questions, as each speaker will give a roughly 15-minute presentation followed by some time for questions during and after the event.

Rucho is expected to discuss pending road projects, including the long-discussed widening of Interstate 485 between the Ballantyne area and Independence Boulevard. Crews are still on target to complete widening between Rea Road and Interstate 77 by the end of 2014, though transportation leaders also want to widen out to Independence Boulevard and the pending Monroe Bypass project in south Mecklenburg. That conversation has included the possibility of adding toll lanes, potentially all the way from I-77 to Independence Boulevard along the southern portion of the loop, though recent discussions also have included the possibility of the state adding a per-mile tax to drivers to create additional revenue for road projects.

Saturday’s budget discussions are likely to range from the city’s Community Investment Plan to the possibility of tax increases or decreases from the city and county this summer and the already-announced CMS budget proposal. Morrison presented his proposed budget Tuesday, April 8, which among other things calls for a 3 percent pay increase for teachers and staff.

Ray Eschert, founder of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, said he’s seen a positive impact on the concerns of south Charlotte parents who attend his meetings since Morrison has been in charge of CMS. Also helping alleviate some concerns is that the population explosion in the Ballantyne area has slowed of late, helping crowded schools.

“I think he’s putting the emphasis where it needs to be,” Eschert said of Morrison’s teacher pay increase proposal. County and CMS officials will discuss the budget over the next few months before the school system knows if it will receive the funds it seeks for teacher raises. State funding also will play a large part in that effort.

County officials have already said there may be a tax decrease this year on their end, while city budget talks are in the early stages. The council held a budget workshop Wednesday, April 9, and will hold additional discussions until the June vote.

The city’s improvement plan, approved in 2013 and pending on bond votes, will spend roughly $816 million on a number of projects. The plan drew the ire of many in south Charlotte as its focus on the SouthPark and Ballantyne areas is limited – the plan would spend $8.6 million for the extension of Park South Drive, and a portion of $60.9 million to build two (of six) new police division headquarters for South Division and what will be the Park South Division.

Eschert expects the plan to be part of the discussion Saturday, as well as there being a focus on city and county 2014-15 fiscal year budgets currently being prepared.

“I think it’s important for the public to gauge the budget process, how it relates to needs, wants and desires,” Eschert said. “It’s also important for residents of south Charlotte/Ballantyne area to see what may be included in those budgets that will benefit these areas.”

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