Charlotte City Council puts $146 million bond referendum on the ballot

Charlotte residents will be asked to vote on a bond referendum in November that would authorize a $146 million plan to invest in the city’s transportation systems, neighborhood infrastructure and housing amenities.

The Charlotte City Council unanimously approved adding the referendum to the election ballot at its meeting Monday night, with council members saying it opened the door for a number of investment projects that would benefit the community.

In a presentation before the board, interim Finance Director Randy Harrington shared details of a plan that would dedicate $110 million toward transportation projects, $20 million to neighborhoods and $15 million to housing. He said the plan aims to improve three aspects of the community: livability, in terms of public safety and availability of housing; getting around the city, via public transit as well as sidewalks and trails; and job growth.

He also cited a series of strategies the city could use to repay debts in the case of an economic downturn – something council members had expressed concern over in previous talks.

Some of the money would go to redeveloping Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, city leaders said. Other projects would involve investment in the area around Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Council member Ed Driggs, a Republican representing District 7 in the southeastern area of the city, said he’d been an “outspoken critic” of the plan in the past because it was committing such a large investment at once, which left little capacity for the city to address additional projects as they came up.

“I thought this erred too much on the side of, ‘Spend it all now; worry about it later,’ ” he said.

But he voted Monday in favor of allowing the bonds, saying now that the plan is in motion, the city needs the money to go through with it.

“I’m concerned about the commitments we’ve made for the future, but voting against these bonds is not the answer,” Driggs said.

Natalie English, senior vice president of the Charlotte Chamber, also spoke in favor of the bonds and the investment plan. She said she believes voters are largely in support of the plan, and the chamber will be running a “Vote Yes for Bonds” campaign as the election approaches.

“It’s investments like this that speak to corporations that consider expanding and relocating here,” she said, citing last week’s announcement that Sealed Air Corp., the maker of Bubble Wrap, is moving its headquarters to Charlotte, bringing nearly 1,300 jobs.

The vote follows council’s approval last month of an operating budget for fiscal year 2015 and the 2015-19 Community Investment Plan, which includes the bond referendum.

The state’s Local Government Commission is scheduled to approve the referendum at a meeting in September. With voter approval, the resolution would next come before council in December.