In an effort to break a six-month stalemate over the citys capital budget, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx proposed two new spending plans Monday including one that eliminates $119 million for a streetcar.
Foxx is one of the biggest champions of the streetcar, arguing that it will spark economic development on the citys distressed east and west sides. But after an unsuccessful push to find a City Council majority to back it, the mayor appears willing to part with the streetcar, for now.
Foxxs first proposal which cuts the streetcar would raise the property tax rate by 1.97 cents for every $100 of taxable value. It would allow the city to spend $463.4 million through 2016.
For the owner of a home with a taxable value of $200,000, that proposal would add just under $40 a year to the city tax bill.
City Manager Curt Walton had first proposed spending $926 million through the end of the decade.
Foxx, a Democrat, said his first proposal is a bare-bones effort.
It cuts the city managers recommendation in half, and it reduces the property-tax increase by almost half, Foxx said.
But its unclear if that proposal can get the backing of six council members.
The councils two Republicans Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey are now backing off of their support of a previous capital plan that would have raised taxes by 2.44 cents.
That was then, Dulin said. The revaluation is still hanging over peoples heads. People dont want any additional city taxes. I hear that everywhere I go.
A second plan totals $803 million.
Cooksey said any property tax increase should be approved by voters. If the Republicans remain against any property tax increase, the council would be divided into three groups.
Five council members support a robust capital plan, including a streetcar, which is also the mayors preference. Four council members support a capital plan, but are hesitant about or against building the streetcar.
The two Republicans, for now, are against any plan that requires a property-tax increase.
The council is much more sure about what they are against than what they are for, Foxx said.
Foxxs smaller proposal includes:
• $120.5 million for six new police stations and a joint communications center for 911 and 311 calls;
• $45 million for sidewalks and pedestrian safety projects;
• $51.4 million for affordable housing;
• $75 million for neighborhood improvements;
• $43 million for road improvements west of Charlotte Douglas Airport to take advantage of the new intermodal rail yard under construction by Norfolk-Southern.
The first proposal cuts many of what Foxx calls economic catalyst projects that Walton created. The idea behind the capital improvement program was to invest in some of the citys poorest areas to create new investment.
In addition to the streetcar, some of the cuts include $102.5 million in infrastructure improvements in the area where the Lynx light-rail line will be built in northeast Charlotte; $25 million to redevelop Bojangles Coliseum into an amateur sports complex; and $20 million for public-private partnerships, possible for the area around the coliseum.
The second budget proposal is more expansive.
It would raise the property-tax rate by 3 cents and would raise $803.8 million for projects. The streetcar would remain, along with $35 million for a 26-mile multi-use trail across the city. The owner of a house valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $60 a year in city taxes.
Walton unveiled his budget in the spring, and it appeared to have the support of most council members. But before the final vote in June, a coalition of four Democrats and two Republicans voted against it.
The six council members Democrats Patrick Cannon, Michael Barnes, Claire Fallon and Beth Pickering, and Republicans Cooksey and Dulin then passed a smaller capital budget that cut the streetcar, among other items.
That budget would have raised property taxes by 2.44 cents.
Foxx vetoed that proposal, saying it did too little for the city in comparison with how much it raised property taxes.
All fall, the City Council has been meeting and negotiating to find a compromise. The biggest sticking point is the streetcar.
After two budget workshops and no agreement, Foxx unveiled his latest offer Monday afternoon, a week before a third scheduled workshop for Dec. 17.
Autry, a strong streetcar supporter, said he hadnt had time to study the two proposals.
When asked whether he could support a plan without a streetcar, Autry said, Nobody is going to get everything they want.
Foxx: No veto
Foxx had previously said that he wanted a capital budget to pass City Council with at least seven votes instead of six votes, which would be a majority. The mayor said council members need to be united in order to sell the plan to the public.
Voters would be asked to approve bonds for the projects every two years, possibly starting in 2013.
I am still looking for seven votes, Foxx said. Thats a big ask of a group thats so entrenched right now.
When asked whether he would veto a proposal if it only received six votes, the mayor said he would likely let the budgets stand.
Having now prepared these two scenarios, it would be hard for me to veto one passing, Foxx said.