Children's Theater tries to stave off city cuts

Supporters of Children's Theatre of Charlotte pleaded with the Charlotte City Council on Monday night to delay eliminating roughly $280,000 in funding that helps pay for their building maintenance.

City Manager Curt Walton has recommended that the city phase out its annual payment to the theater because the city doesn't own the uptown building. With city finances strapped, Walton has recommended cutting subsidies for some groups or agencies that aren't part of the city's core mission.

Phasing out the payment would save $95,000 for fiscal year 2012.

Children's Theatre executive director Bruce LaRowe asked council members for a six-year phase-out instead of three. That would save the city less, about $47,000 for the upcoming year.

"We need time to offset the loss of funding," LaRowe told council members during a public hearing on the budget Monday.

The meeting also focused on whether the city should stop paying for school crossing guards and police officers who work in schools.

Walton's budget would lower the city's property tax rate from 45.86 cents for every $100 of taxable property to 43.7 cents. The lower rate represents the city's "revenue-neutral" budget, which raises the same amount of money as the city had a year ago.

Because of Mecklenburg County's property reevaluation this year, not all homeowners will pay less in city property taxes. People whose home values stayed flat or declined would likely pay less. Others whose home values have risen - many in south Charlotte and northern Mecklenburg - would pay more.

A home with a taxable value of $200,000 this year paid $917 in city property taxes. If that home's value stayed the same, its tax bill would be $874.

Among the issues at Monday's budget hearing:

Cut school officers?

Walton's budget wants the city to stop paying for school crossing guards and police officers who work in schools. He wants the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools instead to pay.

Under the plan approved last year, the city would save $229,000 for fiscal year 2012 by no longer paying for school crossing guards.

In addition, it would begin to shift the cost of school resource officers to CMS. For the upcoming year, CMS would pay the city $3.4 million, up from the current $2.4 million payment. By fiscal year 2014, CMS would pay $5.2 million for the officers.

Mayor Anthony Foxx has said he will veto the budget unless the City Council restores funding for the resource officers, at least for a year or two. Foxx believes the city can afford to help, while CMS - facing large cuts from the state and county - doesn't have the money.

CMS Board chair Eric Davis asked for help Monday.

"We have been forced to lay off hundreds, thousands of teachers and teacher's assistants," Davis said. "The system can't be stretched any further."

Theater debated

When the Children's Theatre operated in a city-owned building on Morehead Street, the city gave it an operating subsidy. When the theater moved to its current home uptown on Seventh Street six years ago, the city continued a subsidy.

Mecklenburg County owns the theater's current home.

LaRowe stressed that he realizes the subsidy will eventually be cut. But he was hoping for a time frame similar to one the city made for museums in the Levine Cultural Campus. Those facilities lost their operating subsidies over a six-year period in exchange for new city-owned buildings.

Council members will discuss the Children's Theatre request, as well as other possible budget changes, during straw votes June 1. A formal budget vote is set for June 13.

Some council members appeared sympathetic toward the theater's request.

Democrat Nancy Carter said she thought the proposal was a "generous offer."

Republican Andy Dulin said he might support the extension. But he said "we're maintaining the building with money that could be spent on roads, on potholes."