CHARLOTTE – Ray Eschert, known as the mayor of Ballantyne, asked Kenny Smith and Vi Lyles how they would ensure the area receives more consideration in the Charlotte budget if they were elected mayor.
Eschert’s question was a nod to efforts several years ago to deannex from Charlotte due to residents feeling as if they were being ignored by the city despite significant contributions to the tax base.
“I understand sometimes when people say, ‘I’m not getting a fair share,’” Lyles told dozens at the Ballantyne Community Candidate Picnic on Oct. 15 at The Ballantyne. “I think if you look at the history of what we have done with our infrastructure needs, you will see that we have done a lot of work across the entire community.”
Lyles said the city has been focused on boosting property tax values in underserved areas to reduce the share of taxes in the northern and southern parts of Charlotte. Investing in outdated infrastructure on the east and west sides of towns helps them grow as strong as the rest of the city so they become equal partners.
She supports providing transportation options for people to get to and from work on the east and west side of town. She believes in expanding the transit system, namely the Silver Line that will eventually connect downtown Matthews to Uptown Charlotte, as well as a transit center on West Trade Street.
Smith acknowledged a need to build up the rest of the city, but he also wants to restore some balance to ensure south Charlotte gets more of a fair share of service. This can be driven by data, not politics.
He wants to use data and strategy to determine where infrastructure is needed to attract investment.
“A lot of the issues we’re dealing with in south Charlotte – a lot of the congestion issues – if we can encourage private sector development more evenly throughout the city, we can take some of the burden off of south Charlotte,” Smith said. “This, right now, is where the private sector is choosing to develop on a more regular basis.”
He would like to see more investment in sidewalks in and around the SouthPark area, so people can move around more safely. HAWK beacons could also make it safer for pedestrians to cross streets.
He acknowledged issues of road capacity in the Ballantyne area, mentioning the need for a turn lane on Community House Road that could relive some of the congestion.
The Ballantyne Breakfast Club partnered with the Ballantyne Chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Morrison and Sara’s YMCAs, to organize the picnic.
Constituents asked several other questions, ranging from where they stood on this year’s school bond (both supported it) to how they’d spend the first 100 days in office.
Lyles emphasized not what she would do but what kind of culture she would create.
“I believe we have lost trust between our communities and our local government,” Lyles said. “My first 100 days is to look through the lens of how do we build trust in our community so that they believe the government will work.”
Part of that involves creating workforce development opportunities and committing to an affordable housing plan and public safety.
Smith wants to meet with City Manager Marcus Jones and department heads on the first day to get started on creating a 25-year vision for Charlotte designed to counteract the negative effects of population growth.
“We have spent much of the past two years dealing with the issues that divide us,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of stuff out of Washington, D.C. that has been brought here. I want to get back to the basics – the core functions of local government.”
After all, Smith quipped, potholes don’t consider themselves Democrat or Republican.
Candidates also addressed Charlotte’s need for affordable housing.
Smith stressed the importance of good jobs, safe neighborhoods and infrastructure to get people to and from work. He claimed to be the first council member to release an affordable housing plan.
His plan consists of four principals: Increasing the bond offering, reviewing outdated locational priorities, creating a land trust and getting strategic redevelopment and targeted rehabilitation of aging market rate apartments.
He believes local government need help from the corporate and philanthropic sectors, as well as the faith community, to secure land for the trust.
Lyles recommends thinking about an existing rent subsidy program to ensure people paying $600 for rent don’t have to move out because their property is getting redeveloped.
“I think the idea around engaging the private sector and philanthropy community is going to be key to this, because this is going to be a long-term issue for us,” she said.
She’s also focused on the revaluation process, wanting to ensure the tax rate is low so that people can afford to keep their homes.
“The world has changed,” Lyles said. “We can’t wait 25 years to rethink what we’re doing. We can’t wait five years.”