Politics & Government

Eight city projects may need more money — but no gaps like the Cross Charlotte Trail

Drone views of The Cross Charlotte Trail

The Cross Charlotte Trail is meant to run from one end of Charlotte to the other, then connect to points in the county. But there isn’t enough money in the budget to finish it now, City Council heard Monday, January 7, 2018.
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The Cross Charlotte Trail is meant to run from one end of Charlotte to the other, then connect to points in the county. But there isn’t enough money in the budget to finish it now, City Council heard Monday, January 7, 2018.

While some of the city’s bond-funded projects carry additional “budget risk,” there isn’t another massive shortfall like the $77 million funding gap that’s put the Cross Charlotte Trail in jeopardy, City Council members heard Wednesday.

In a presentation during the council’s first budget workshop, staff said they have identified eight projects that either are at risk of needing more money and one that definitely will, out of a total of 109 bond-funded projects since 2014. But that number didn’t include the Cross Charlotte Trail. It also left out some other projects previously identified as having budget shortfalls, like the $20 million funding gap to finish the new Joint Communications Center, because those were redesigned to fit in their budgets, staff said.

Although staff said they can’t guarantee they’ve identified every project that could require more funds, they’re confident that most of the remaining bond-funded projects can be completed within their budgets.

“I don’t think there are any numbers here...that are so big we can’t begin to address it in the existing budget,” said City Manager Marcus Jones.

Council members said they still want more information, but most said they’re happy that there aren’t any enormous shortfalls looming. Members said they were stunned to learn last month that the Cross Charlotte Trail has about only one-third of the required funding, and there’s not nearly enough money to build its entire planned 26-mile route across the city.

“It should be looked at in the context of the recent shock we got with the Cross Charlotte Trail,” said council member Ed Driggs. “Are there more Cross Charlotte Trails lurking? Now we have an inventory. We’re told that those are not expected to be big issues like the one we just experienced.”

The city’s operating budget is in good shape, city staff said at the presentation, with no tax increase needed to maintain services at their current level. The projects that were in question are all capital projects, most of which were approved years ago, with what city officials now say were inadequate or incomplete budget estimates.

Jones said that city staff previously conceived of and recommended projects to council for approval before detailed budget estimates were completed. Going forward, he said, staff will conduct more detailed estimates, backed by engineering, before projects are recommended by the manager and approved by council.

City Engineer Mike Davis said that although eight bond-funded projects — such as Monroe/Idlewild road intersection improvements and the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Central Division Station — have been identified as at risk of going over their budgets, he thinks the projects can be made to fit.

One exception is a new Charlotte Fire Department station, Davis said. That will definitely require more funding, but he said it will be less than $5 million.

Some council members said they still want more clarity on the bond projects, for which voters have approved more than $816 million worth of debt.

“For every one of those projects that a taxpayer approved in a bond, promises were made,” said council member Tariq Bokhari. “We’ve got to get to a point where we peel back the layers of the onion.”

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Ely Portillo covers local and state government for the Charlotte Observer, where he has previously written about growth, crime, the airport and a five-legged puppy. He grew up in Maryland and attended Harvard University.

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