A year ago, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx suffered perhaps his biggest political defeat when the City Council rejected a nearly $1 billion capital budget.
On Monday night, Foxx celebrated as council members approved an $816 million spending plan that the mayor has championed and lobbied for on an almost continuous basis.
The capital plan will build new roads, sidewalks, affordable housing, police stations and other infrastructure through 2020. It will be funded with a 7.25 percent city property tax increase.
Foxx, who will probably become the next U.S. secretary of transportation, said the capital budget will help make Charlotte not only a “great place to work, but to live and play.”
The mayor said he had wondered whether council members and the community had “forgotten how our futures have been built in the past.” Foxx believes the capital spending plan will inject new life into the city’s less-affluent areas, which will help grow the tax base.
Council members approved the budget 8-2, with Republicans Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey voting no. Democrat Claire Fallon didn’t attend the meeting.
The owner of a home with a taxable value of $200,000 will pay an additional $63.40 a year. The city is also raising water and sewer bills and stormwater fees, which will cost the average homeowner about $25 a year.
Mecklenburg County is also considering a property tax increase that would cost the owner of a $200,000 house an additional $50 a year.
The City Council’s decision to raise property taxes comes in a year when members are up for re-election in the fall. At one point during budget discussions, some council members questioned whether it would be politically feasible to move forward with the capital plan in an election year.
On Monday, council members said the capital plan would be an economic boost for the city.
Democrat Michael Barnes said the spending plan would create 18,000 jobs and have a $2 billion economic impact. A year earlier, Barnes had voted against a capital plan because it included money for a streetcar extension, which Barnes has voted against.
The streetcar was removed from the capital plan by City Manager Ron Carlee. Carlee created a plan to pay for the streetcar by using reserve funds, and pledging to seek federal money to help pay for it. Council members approved the streetcar by a 7-4 vote last month.
“No one enjoys raising taxes,” said Democrat Beth Pickering about Monday’s vote. “But we do it because we are investing in our city. We are investing in all of us. There are exciting things in our budget.”
Pickering had voted against the budget in 2012, in part because it used property tax dollars for a streetcar.
The property tax increase will go into effect in July, at the start of the new fiscal year. Voters will be asked to approve bonds for the capital plan in November 2014. There also will be referendums in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
Because voters will decide whether to approve the bonds, Cooksey said council members should allow them to also vote on the property tax increase.
“We shouldn’t go forward with a tax increase without voter approval,” he said.
Foxx has argued that the capital plan is crucial to the city’s future because Charlotte no longer has room to annex new territory. For the tax base to grow, the city must make low-income areas more attractive for development.
The capital plan – which was originally designed by former City Manager Curt Walton – is designed to be “transformative.”
It includes millions of dollars for projects such as new roads west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to handle a projected increase in truck traffic when a new Norfolk Southern intermodal rail yard opens at the airport.
The capital plan has money to renovate Bojangles’ Coliseum and to build a new communications center for 911 and 311 calls. The city also plans to build a bike and pedestrian trail across the city.
Monday’s meeting was probably the last significant vote for Foxx as mayor.
“If we make decisions today based purely on today we will find our city left behind,” Foxx said.
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