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Charlotte City Council likely to OK budget

Council likely to OK budget

A year ago, Charlotte’s attempt at adopting a capital spending plan ended in failure when City Council members rejected a nearly $1 billion spending package.

They will try again Monday night.

During this budget season, all indications have been that council members will approve a new, $816 million capital program, perhaps by a comfortable 9-2 vote along party lines, with Democrats supporting the plan and Republicans opposing it.

The spending program – which is designed to carry the city through 2020 – has money for new roads, sidewalks, bridges, police stations, affordable housing and neighborhood improvements, among other investments. Under the plan being considered Monday, it would require a 7.25percent property tax increase.

The owner of a home with a taxable value of $200,000 would pay $63.40 more in city property taxes a year if the plan is approved. The city is also considering water, sewer and stormwater fees and rate increases that could cost an average homeowner about $25 a year.

In addition, Mecklenburg County has proposed a property tax increase that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $50 a year.

Democrat David Howard supports the proposed operating and capital budgets and supported them in 2012. He said he anticipates Monday’s vote passing, “but after last year, you never know.”

Last year, the capital budget was defeated because of opposition to funding for a streetcar-line extension.

Last month, City Manager Ron Carlee removed the streetcar funding from the capital budget, and council members approved a plan to build the 2.5-mile extension without using property taxes.

With the streetcar removed, the budget appears set for approval.

The operating budget for the coming year is what Carlee has called a “continuing services” budget. It has no significant budget cuts or additions. The general fund budget – which mostly pays for police, fire and other services such as solid waste – will be $563.5 million. That is a 2.3 percent increase over fiscal year 2013.

• The budget includes a 2 percent raise pool for nonpublic safety city employees. Public safety employees are on a different pay plan, which includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and step increases of either 2.5 percent or 5 percent.

• Under the proposed budget, the city would contribute $2 million in the next fiscal year to a rental assistance program that would be run by the Foundation for the Carolinas.

• The city is also revamping its small-business outreach program, adding race and gender-specific goals for city contracts. Three new staff members will be added to revamp the program, which is being called Charlotte Business INClusion.

• Council members also approved spending up to $250,000 for a study to advance the proposed Red Line commuter rail line to Lake Norman. That transit line has been considered for nearly a decade, but the region has no money to pay for it.

When budget discussions began earlier this year, the city realized it would have a small, one-time deficit in its general fund because of residents winning their property evaluation appeals from Mecklenburg County. The appeals lowered the county and city’s tax base, resulting in smaller revenues. That gap of about $5 million is being plugged by using one-time funds.

Carlee has said that the fiscal year 2015 budget may require a small property tax increase, which could be the city’s second in two years.

Though the 3.17-cent tax increase for the capital program would go into effect in July, voters wouldn’t be asked to approve bonds for the projects until November 2014. There also would be bond referendums in 2016, 2018 and 2020, under the city’s plan.

If voters reject the bonds, the tax increase would remain in place. Council members could later vote to rescind it.

If the budget is approved Monday, it would likely be the last significant achievement for Mayor Anthony Foxx, who appears likely to be approved by the U.S. Senate as the next secretary of transportation. He was nominated for the Cabinet position in April.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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