South Charlotte

Town of Ballantyne concept faces hurdles

Though the fervor for a town of Ballantyne was in full force at last Wednesday's meeting of south Mecklenburg County residents, the level of organization needed to pursue deannexation is lacking.

The South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers, a loosely formed group of about 35 south Charlotte and Matthews residents who recently decided on guiding principles, gathered informally at the South County Regional Library to air frustrations.

Also in attendance were District 6 County Commissioner Bill James, who first put forward the controversial idea of south Mecklenburg's secession, and south Charlotte's District 7 City Council Representative Warren Cooksey, who says he's been researching the concept for a while.

Though SMART formed in late October in response to taxation frustrations, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board's recent vote to appoint Pineville resident and Democrat Amelia Stinson-Wesley to represent the Republican-leaning District 6, escalated their dissatisfaction.

"If my email lit a tiny fire in south Mecklenburg, what the school board just did took some kerosene and dumped it on that fire," said James.

The meeting opened with talk of logos, yard signs and goals for enhancing the south Meck identity, encouraging citizenship and stopping wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

But the elephant in the room - and the reason most gathered there - was the concept of a town of Ballantyne.

Even a few intrigued residents of north Mecklenburg suburbs showed up.

So how do you define south Mecklenburg? Where would you draw the line?

In his provocative email suggesting a new town, James defined the area as south of N.C. 51. But that doesn't include SouthPark, one resident said.

Define it as "south of Myers Park Methodist," said another.

Unable to come to a consensus, the group moved to other topics.

Cooksey, asked to speak at that portion of the meeting, wanted to discuss what south Meck residents don't like about the city, what they want a new town to accomplish and what the process would look like.

There are many hurdles, he said. For instance, creating a new city wouldn't solve residents' frustrations over representation on the school board, which is run by the county.

The area would need utilities, and Charlotte would have little reason to willingly provide them.

And it would be difficult to significantly lower taxes, even with a new town, said Cooksey.

Depending on where you draw the lines, the southern region of the county has anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 people.

The property taxes in other North Carolina cities in that size range aren't much lower - and in many cases are higher - than the Charlotte rate, which is about $0.44 for every $100 on the value of the home.

Asheville, Wilmington and Greenville, N.C., have similar rates, and High Point's is $0.66 cents per $100.

Not everyone at the meeting was ready to pursue a split from the city. Trip Jones stood to offer a dissenting opinion.

A transplant from New York, Jones said his days on Wall Street often brought him to Charlotte, which he fell in love with. He didn't even know south Charlotte existed at the time.

"I know we've been disrespected by the Board of Education, and I know that we're a cash cow and that stinks," said Jones. "But ... I wish someone can give me a good reason we should ... (jump) to be another town," he said.

"We have not adequately declared where we want to go, what our goals and wishes are."

In the wake of the meeting, Cooksey agreed.

"I didn't hear enough to warrant pursuing such an effort," he said. But, he added, "I'll always be available to advise anyone who wants more information about the necessary process."

There currently is no mechanism in North Carolina law for local governments to break a city into multiple municipalities. It would take an act of the N.C. General Assembly.

N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-39th District, who represents the Ballantyne area, has said he's open to the idea of Ballantyne becoming a town.

Cooksey said he was encouraged by south Charlotteans stepping up to get involved with city issues.

He said when he first took office in 2007, he approached all 80 homeowners association presidents in his area to start a dialogue about local issues. Only four responded.

The idea of a separate school system could be the next hot topic.

"Clearly, the effort to divide the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools into two or three separate systems got a boost," said Cooksey.

James said he's not expecting SMART to spearhead the effort for a new municipality and that a "whole host of groups in the area" are going to want to weigh in.

But "this was the first acknowledged discussion of the topic in public," he added. "You have to start someplace."