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City's streetcar plan slows

After more than a year of being deadlocked over a capital budget, the Charlotte City Council cleared the way Wednesday for a roughly $820 million capital plan that, for now, doesn’t include a streetcar extension.

Under the plan tentatively approved, the city’s property tax rate would increase in July. But voters wouldn’t be asked to approve bonds for projects such as roads, sidewalks, police stations and affordable housing until November 2014.

There are still several budget meetings ahead, and it’s possible council members could change their minds. But Wednesday’s meeting suggested that the city is close to endorsing much of the Capital Improvement Program first endorsed by former City Manager Curt Walton in March 2012.

City Manager Ron Carlee said he needed more time to study the merits of a 2.5-mile streetcar extension, which has been the main reason for the impasse. And Mayor Anthony Foxx – the streetcar’s biggest champion – said he wouldn’t let the streetcar stand in the way of other improvements.

But both Carlee and Foxx insisted that the streetcar isn’t dead. Carlee said he hopes to have a streetcar recommendation for council members by June, and council members could be asked to vote on the project. But it would be separate from the rest of the capital plan.

“I want to move forward, even if it means pulling the streetcar out,” said Foxx, who won’t run for a third term.

It’s likely that council members will choose one of these scenarios:

•  Approve a property tax increase of 3.17 cents for every $100 of taxable value. The increase would go into effect in July, and voters would be asked to approve bonds for the capital budget projects in November 2014. The owner of a house with a taxable value of $200,000 would pay an additional $79.80 in city taxes each year.

•  The other option is to approve a smaller 2.78-cent property tax increase starting in July. Both plans would build the same number of projects, but if council members choose the smaller property tax increase, more projects would be pushed to later years. Under the smaller increase, the owner of a $200,000 house would pay an additional $55.60 a year in city taxes.

Walton’s capital plan was designed to be “transformative” and spark economic development in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

It includes $44 million for road improvements west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport; $25 million to renovate Bojangles’ Coliseum; $35 million to build a bike and walking trail across the city; $61 million for new police stations; $60 million for affordable housing; and $120 million in neighborhood improvements.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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