The Charlotte City Council appeared concerned with offering benefits to same-sex partners during a budget meeting Wednesday, voting 9-2 to seek an opinion from the N.C. Attorney General as to whether that would be legal after the passage of Amendment One.
City Manager Curt Walton recommended on May 9 that the city begin offering the benefits, which he said is critical for recruitment and employee morale.
The day before his formal proposal, state voters approved an amendment to the N.C. Constitution that makes a marriage between a man and a woman as the only union the state recognizes.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said he doesnt know whether N.C. municipalities will be able to offer benefits for same-sex partners, and said the issue will likely be decided by the state Supreme Court. (Domestic-partner benefits are already offered by nine local governments across the state, including Mecklenburg, Durham and Orange counties and the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill and Asheville.)
Im not comfortable being sued, said Democrat Michael Barnes.
Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, a Democrat, also said he was concerned about the city being sued. He suggested the issue should have been sent to a council committee first to be discussed.
Its unclear how council will act when it makes a final vote on the budget June 11. Hagemann told them its unlikely the attorney general will offer an opinion by then, meaning council could take a vote without clear guidance.
Democrats LaWana Mayfield, the councils first openly gay member, and Patsy Kinsey, who has lobbied for same-sex benefits, voted against asking for an opinion. They appear to want to move forward with offering benefits.
Waltons plan is for the same-sex benefits to begin in January. He has estimated it would cost $150,000 a year.
The discussion over the benefits dominated Wednesdays budget debate, eclipsing a planned discussion over the operating budget and Waltons $926 million capital plan, which would be funded with an 8 percent property tax hike.
Harrison: 704-358-5160 $926M capital plan debated
Republicans Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin proposed scrapping the plan, and finding alternative ways to fund the most critical building projects.
Dulin suggested postponing the plan a year and then having the entire plan including the property tax increase go before voters in 2013. Lets put it to a vote, Dulin said.
Kinsey said she generally supports Waltons capital plan. She added that its unrealistic to seek a tax increase in 2013, when council members are up for reelection. Its a political reality, Kinsey said.
The two Republicans plan has little chance of passing. But it did receive the five votes needed during the budget debate to keep it alive. Democrats Beth Pickering, Mayfield and Cannon voted to keep the concept alive.
Walton has said the plan is critical. He believes it will improve struggling neighborhoods with projects that are designed to be economic catalysts.
Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, asked Walton to review a slightly smaller capital plan, perhaps 10 percent smaller in cost. But he generally supported the plan, and said a paradigm shift is needed in how the city treats its poorest neighborhoods.
In other action, council members unanimously approved Cookseys idea to ask Mecklenburg County to repay the city $1.4 million that Charlotte gave the county for libraries two years ago. The emergency funds were given to help keep libraries open.