Charlotte city budget plan includes tax hike, cuts

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee proposed a mix of tax and fee increases and budget cuts to close a nearly $22 million budget shortfall.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee proposed a mix of tax and fee increases and budget cuts to close a nearly $22 million budget shortfall.

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee proposed Monday closing a nearly $21 million budget gap with a small tax increase, fee hikes and $7.6 million in budget cuts.

The biggest change is a proposed increase in the stormwater fees that homeowners pay to offset the concrete on their property. Under the proposal, 10 percent of homeowners would pay an extra $141 per year in stormwater fees.

Charlotte has struggled to balance its budget this year in part because of the General Assembly’s repeal of the business privilege license tax, which cost the city $18.1 million in revenue.

Carlee said his plan’s starting point is that businesses received a tax cut from the legislature.

“It’s a tax cut,” Carlee said. “It’s $18 million.”

Under Carlee’s plan, a homeowner with a home value at the city median – $141,100 – would pay about $3.50 less per month in taxes and fees.

Most of the new revenue would come from homeowners with expensive property. The biggest change would be to homeowners with houses with large impervious surfaces.

Though the proposal makes a number of cuts, it also would give city employees raises. The general raise pool for non-public safety employees would be 1.5 percent.

Overall, the proposed general fund budget would increase by 1.3 percent to $593.6 million. The general fund pays for things such as police, fire, garbage collection and road paving.

Tax-rate increase

The main part of Carlee’s plan is to eliminate a $47 garbage fee paid by homeowners. He wants to transfer that into a property tax increase of 1.36 cents for every $100 of taxable value.

That would allow the city to spread the tax burden among commercial properties, which currently don’t pay the garbage fee.

Carlee has said that the $47 fee is a regressive tax in that the wealthy and poor pay the same amount.

Besides the property tax increase for garbage collection, Carlee has proposed increasing the tax rate by 0.41 cents. The rationale behind that hike is to achieve a “revenue neutral” rate to correct for a loss of revenue from the recent countywide property revaluation.

The overall size of the proposed property tax increase is 3.75 percent. It would come after the city increased property taxes by 7.25 percent in 2013.

The city said that homes worth less than $267,000 would pay less under the new plan, assuming the garbage fee is eliminated.

A home with tax value of $1 million would pay an additional $129 a year, the city said.

But those calculations don’t include the impact of two increases to the city’s stormwater fee.

Residential property owners would be placed in one of four tiers based on how much impervious surface they have in their yard.

Ten percent of homeowners would be in the highest tier and would pay an extra $11.78 a month. Just under 30 percent of homeowners with between 3,000 and 4,999 square feet of impervious surface would pay an extra $3.91 a month.

Most homeowners would see no increase.

Charlotte Water also proposed a rate increase. The average user would pay an extra $18.60 more a year for water – a 2.7 percent increase.

The change includes ending a so-called “lifeline rate” for people who use the least amount of water.

Service cuts

Some of the proposed cuts include closing the 311 information service on weekends and holidays. That would save $658,000.

The city also would resurface about 16.5 fewer miles of streets a year, which would save just under $860,000.

The budget also would cut $204,000 from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and $210,000 from the Charlotte Fire Department.

The city has eliminated more than 100 jobs, through retirements or people leaving voluntarily. There have been no layoffs.

Across the city, all departments cut a combined $4.5 million in what the city says a “expense reductions” – not direct cuts to services.

Pay raises

Carlee’s plan includes raises for employees, which would cost $4.9 million.

Non public-safety employees would have a 1.5 percent raise pool. Police and fire employees would have a 0.75 percent raise pool, as well as a step increase.

Carlee also wants to raise the pay of 88 employees, who mostly work in Solid Waste Services, to bring their pay up to 60 percent of area median income. That is $27,000 a year.

The City Council and mayor’s budget for expenses other than salaries would be cut by $64,000, or down 22 percent.

Harrison: 704-358-5160