Politics & Government

Charlotte city manager wants 1% property tax increase to hire police

To pay for police, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee is recommending a small property tax hike.
To pay for police, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee is recommending a small property tax hike. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

To pay for 50 new police officers, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee has recommended a small property tax increase in the upcoming year’s budget, which was unveiled Monday.

But City Council could choose another path, if it’s wary of raising the tax rate for the third time in four years.

One option is to increase the fees people pay for garbage collection, while another is to eliminate trash collection for apartments.

City officials have said that Charlotte is unique among large cities in collecting trash from apartments. But apartment owners have pushed back against the proposal, saying it would hurt low-income residents because their landlords would pass along the higher collection fees to renters.

Carlee has proposed no changes to garbage fees or garbage collection, for now. His plan would increase the property tax rate by 0.43 cents, which is about a 1 percent increase.

Combined with recommended increases in water and sewer fees, the owner of a home with a taxable value of $141,100 – the city’s median price – would pay an additional $36.55 in taxes and fees annually.

The owner of a house valued at $300,000 would pay about $44 more in taxes and water and sewer fees.

Carlee said Monday he has proposed a property tax increase because it’s spread among a large part of the city, including both residential and commercial property owners.

“(The property tax) spreads the cost of public safety,” Carlee said. “You pay property taxes directly or indirectly. It balances the burden across everyone.”

The biggest challenge for this year’s budget is paying for more police officers and firefighters.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney said earlier this year that he needed 125 new officers and 80 new hires in support positions, such as 911 operators. Fire Chief Jon Hannan also asked for more people, mostly to staff a new ladder company for the Northlake Mall area.

The city plans to hire 50 new officers and 25 support staff for he Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, with hopes of hiring more people in the next two or three years. The Charlotte Fire Department will get 18 new firefighters.

The new public safety positions will cost about about $6.6 million next year. The property tax increase would raise $4 million.

Three years ago, the city raised the property tax rate by 7.25 percent to pay for a capital program to build roads, bridges, sidewalks, affordable housing and a 26-mile trail across the county, among other projects. The year after that, there was no tax increase. Last year, the property tax rate was increased by 2.1 percent.

As of now, the city doesn’t have a surplus to pay for additional police officers a year from now. That could require another tax rate increase.

The City Council received Carlee’s budget Monday but did not discuss it. There is a public hearing for the budget next Monday, and council members are scheduled to discuss it May 11.

Here are some other parts of Carlee’s proposed budget:

▪ There are no increases in the cost of bus and train tickets. The Charlotte Area Transit System has had a policy of raising fares every two years, and the transit system has consistently done that. But Carlee said the Metropolitan Transit Commission voted against a fare increase this year because it’s concerned another increase would hurt low-income people who depend on CATS. The cost of a one-way bus and train ticket will remain $2.20.

CATS is adding 103 new full-time positions, mostly for the Lynx Blue Line extension, which is scheduled to open in late summer 2017. CATS is mostly funded by a half-cent sales tax for transit.

▪ Residents’ water and sewer bills will increase. The monthly water and sewer “availability fee” will increase from $8.14 to $9.84 a month. The water and sewer “billing fee” will increase from $6.30 to $7.14 a month.

▪ The budget includes a 3 percent raise pool for city employees. Public safety employees are on a different, previously approved pay plan. The city has also budgeted $500,000 for a program to raise the pay of its lowest hourly workers and to ensure other hourly workers have their pay raised to equal their time at the city. The new hourly minimum for the city will be $13.60, or 60 percent of the area median income.

▪ The city’s general fund will grow by 5.9 percent, to $636.2 million. The city will add 134 new jobs, most of them – 96 positions – in the police and fire departments. Most of the other new jobs, such as construction services inspectors, are funded by an increase in user fees.

▪ Charlotte Douglas International Airport plans to hire 50 new people in areas such as security, technology, building maintenance and fleet maintenance. The airport does not receive property tax money from the city.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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