Charlotte City Council members continued their stalemate Thursday over the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and City Manager Curt Walton said he would draft an emergency measure to keep the city operating if no deal is reached by June 30.
A number of council members said they could agree to a budget that would increase the property tax rate by 2.44 cents the same amount that Mecklenburg County will lower its tax rate. For property owners in Charlotte, that would result in no increase in their joint city-county tax bill.
The original budget plan would have raised the city tax rate by 3.6 cents for every $100 of taxable property.
But there was no agreement as to what pieces of a proposed $926 million capital program would be sacrificed to make a smaller property tax agreement work.
On Monday, in a surprise 6-5 vote, council rejected the 8 percent property tax increase recommended by Walton to pay for the capital program through 2020.
On Thursday, the councils budget committee met to find a compromise.
Committee chair Michael Barnes, who voted against the budget on Monday, offered four different scenarios for a less expensive capital plan.
All four plans either called for eliminating or postponing a controversial $119 million streetcar extension that Barnes has questioned.
But some council members pushed back against cutting the streetcar. Democrats John Autry and Patsy Kinsey whose districts include part of the streetcar route said that is a deal breaker for them.
People on Central Avenue would be up in arms if they dont get it, said Kinsey, who voted for the original plan Monday.
I cant support any of these, said Kinsey, referring to Barnes proposed cuts.
After the budget meeting, Barnes said the streetcar may remain in whatever capital plan is passed. He has said hes against the streetcar because he believes property taxes also will be used to operate it, and hes worried it could make it more difficult to build a light-rail extension to University City, which is a high priority.
The city plans to begin construction next year on a 1.5-mile starter streetcar line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital. The $37 million project is being paid for in part by a $25 million federal grant.
The streetcar funds in the capital program would primarily extend that starter line to Johnson C. Smith University.
But the project is controversial in part because the streetcar will travel on regular streets and wont be any faster than a bus. The city hopes it will spark economic development, and eventually wants it to extend down Central Avenue in east Charlotte.
2.44-cent hike backed
Some council members who voted no Monday said they could approve a scaled-back capital plan that would only raise property taxes by 2.44 cents.
Republican Warren Cooksey said he could vote for that increase, but no more. If a budget agreement can be reached, Cooksey also said he would vote for a budget that includes the streetcar, a project that he has long opposed.
Democrat Claire Fallon suggested she could support a similar tax hike.
Republican Andy Dulin said the only budget he will support would have no tax hike.
Three elected officials didnt attend the budget meeting. Democrats David Howard and James Mitchell, who both voted to approve the budget on Monday, had conflicts. Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Orlando, Fla.
After Mondays vote, Foxx blasted council members for shooting down the budget and capital plan, calling it one of the most irresponsible votes a council has made. He was upset because no one had proposed an alternative.
After failing to support one of Barnes proposals, the budget committee set a deadline of Monday for council members to submit alternative capital program scenarios.
Its unclear if anyone will do that. There was a similar deadline two weeks earlier and no one offered any cuts to the $926 million plan.
If anyone submits revisions to the capital program, they would be discussed and considered at the June 25 council meeting the last scheduled meeting before a June 30 deadline to set a tax rate, as required by N.C. law.
In a statement released Wednesday, Foxx said the vote moved us to the brink of a city government shutdown on July 1.
Walton said Thursday hes going to make contingency plans if the council doesnt approve a budget and tax rate. That would include an interim budget that would allow the city to continue paying employees, honoring contractual obligations and making debt payments.
The plan would have to be OKd by council on June 25.