Charlotte is growing in all directions, but it’s the southernmost part of the city that’s feeling stunted when it comes to funding.
Areas like Ballantyne are pushing for more spending on roads and infrastructure to keep up with the surge of commuters and new development. Meanwhile, city officials say some of the problems can be solved with better cross-county and cross-boarder collaboration.
“It’s on me. I have to get out of my office and shake the hands of people from different areas and different counties,” said Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones, who came to Charlotte from Norfolk, Va., in December 2016. “It should never be this concept of Charlotte verses everybody else.”
South Charlotte Partners invited Jones to speak during Councilmember Ed Driggs’ coffee meeting Aug. 3 at the Ballantyne Hotel. The nonprofit is an offshoot of the civic discussion group, the Ballantyne Breakfast Club. The informal meeting was an opportunity to discuss solutions with Jones and learn about key city initiatives and priorities for the south Charlotte area.
Attendees shared their frustrations about booming South Carolina towns just over the state line, many of which are home to commuters who travel to work through south Charlotte.
“They’re using our roads and services,” one man said. “We are bearing the brunt of that growth.”
Jones said Charlotte has three governing bodies – city council, county commission and the school board – that should be working together to find solutions, but they’re not. Jones said he supports a regional administration of government, and more collaboration with South Carolina on infrastructure projects that improve both sides of the border.
Charlotte City Council recently adopted a $2.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2019. This budget, effective July 1, promises to enhance community safety, strengthen neighborhoods, recognize the city’s workforce and position the city to be a leader in economic opportunity.
One of the attendees questioned council’s financial literacy, adding that it seems some members don’t know what to do with a budget that large. Jones, however, insisted every council member goes through an orientation after they’re elected. They learn where the money comes from and where it goes, he said.
“There’s no textbook for this. All you need is a good group that’s willing to listen,” Jones said. “If they buy into regionalization, infrastructure and job creation, if they focus on those highest priorities, then we’re going to get what’s best for Charlotte.”
Included in the budget is a $20 million plan to enlarge Bryant Farms Road from Elm Lane and Rea Road, providing a much needed east-west connection in the rapidly growing Ballantyne area. South Charlotte Partners helped lobby for the extension, which will serve as a parallel route to Ardrey Kell Road and include pedestrian and bicycle lanes. Additionally, the intersection of Bryant Farms Road, Elm Lane and Blakeney Heath Road will be rebuilt. Initial project funding of $2 million is proposed for 2019, with an additional $18 million in fiscal year 2021, for a total of $20 million.
Ray Eschert, founder of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, felt the meeting with Jones was a success. He said it shed light on the city’s vision for the region and got Jones thinking about how the City of Charlotte can better serve its southern areas, like Ballantyne.
“I think people have an understanding that things are changing because of the way Marcus is handling things,” Eschert said. “He puts a strong emphasis on collaboration between governing bodies. It’s that collaborative voice that carries the weight.”