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Higher Mecklenburg County water bills likely

Mecklenburg County residents will likely face a small increase in water and sewer bills next year, according to a city budget presentation Wednesday.

A resident with a monthly water and sewer bill of $53 would see a monthly increase between $1.90 and $2.20.

The exact amount of the increase needed will be determined later this spring, said Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities director Barry Gullet. He said the increase is needed to pay for higher operating costs and to service debt. Another factor: Households are generally using less water than they did five years ago, which deprives CMU of revenue.

Gullet said the proposed increase would be the smallest in at least 10 years. The Charlotte City Council would have to approve the increase, which would go into effect July 1.

Spending stalemate

The CMU presentation was part of a council budget workshop in which little progress was made toward passing a Capital Improvement Program.

The City Council and Mayor Anthony Foxx failed to agree on a long-term spending plan last year, with the council and Foxx split over whether to spend property tax dollars building a streetcar.

The proposed $119 million streetcar extension sank the capital plan in 2012. Based on Wednesday’s discussion, it could do the same thing in 2013.

“I need to remind council that we have spent hours and hours – and the staff has spent thousands of hours – and the streetcar today remains the dividing line that divides this otherwise genteel council,” said Republican Andy Dulin, who is opposed to the streetcar.

He said he expects this year’s budget debate to be “a bloody cycle again.”

In June, Foxx vetoed a smaller capital plan that didn’t include a streetcar. He implored council members Wednesday to create a plan that would bring economic development to Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue, the planned path of the streetcar.

“If we don’t do streetcar, does anyone know how we will revitalize Central Avenue and Beatties Ford Road?” Foxx asked. “If the answer is nothing, then that is unacceptable.”

All parts of the proposed $926 million capital plan were sent to council committees late last year for further discussion. The committee chairs Wednesday endorsed almost all parts of the original plan. When it came to the streetcar, the chair of the economic development committee, James Mitchell, suggested the city wait until the results of a transit task force are complete.

That 30-person taskforce has been asked by Foxx to find ways to pay for unfunded transit projects, such as a commuter rail line to Lake Norman.

But the decision to delay the streetcar decision suggests the project is still stymied.

Last fall, council members held three special budget workshops, with a primary focus being to find ways other than the property tax to fund the streetcar. No solution was found.

The streetcar – and other projects – were then sent to special council committees for further study. The result of that decision was to wait for the results of the transit taskforce, which may have a report and recommendations in April.

Streetcar opponent Democrat Michael Barnes said he hopes the city can find a compromise.

“I’m desperate to pass a budget,” he said.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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