City budget proposal for 2014-15 has no tax rate hike, but other fees increase

The city of Charlotte is not proposing a property tax increase for the upcoming year, but homeowners may see higher water bills.

City Manager Ron Carlee presented the City Council with a proposed budget Monday that mostly maintains the status quo for the next year. In addition to proposed increases in water rates and stormwater fees – about $2 more a month for typical customers – the Charlotte Area Transit System has proposed a 20-cent fare increase for bus and train tickets.

In January, the city projected it might need a small property tax rate hike due to Mecklenburg County’s review of the 2011 property revaluation. But the reval’s impact is smaller than thought, and the strengthening economy has also boosted city coffers, said budget director Randy Harrington.

The city’s $584.1 million general fund, which pays for services such as police, fire and roads, is projected to increase by 3.7 percent compared with a year ago.

That equals $20.6 million in new spending. The city has budgeted $11.2 million to cover inflation, vehicle maintenance, technology maintenance and higher health insurance costs. The city has also budgeted $7.5 million for raises for employees from a 3 percent raise pool.

Another cost increase for the upcoming year: $750,000 to operate the new streetcar line for six months after it opens in early 2015.

Council members last year approved a 7.25 percent tax rate increase to pay for an $816 million capital program that will build roads, bridges, affordable housing, sidewalks and police stations throughout the city.

Carlee’s proposal comes at a time when the county expects a revenue surplus of about $40 million.

At its budget retreat in February, county commissioners appeared to support a tax rate cut in the upcoming 2014-15 budget year. Some commissioners also want to expand services cut during the recent recession.

A county tax cut would follow last year’s 2.35-cent tax increase. County commissioners are up for re-election this year.

Other highlights of the proposed city budget include:

The city also operates four so-called “enterprise funds,” which are mostly self-sufficient and rely on user fees.

The largest is Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which has a proposed $128.7 million operating budget – an 8 percent increase from last year.

That increase includes nine new positions to create a dispatch/call center to “improve coordination and responsiveness of safety and operations needs.” The airport also plans to hire six new positions in building maintenance, six positions in business support and financial management and two new hires in public affairs. The airport is also making more than 100 temporary employees – many airport parking bus drivers – full time.

The Charlotte Area Transit System plans to hire 12 new positions to operate the streetcar. Those jobs are being paid for by the city’s general fund.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities plans to hire 18 new staffers to handle “increased water and service demand.”

David Perlmutt contributed.