Politics & Government

Budget vote may trip on 2 issues

The Charlotte City Council is scheduled to approve an $1.82 billion budget tonight that strays little from City Manager Curt Walton's recommendation.

But two controversial topics may hold up the vote: A proposed 27 percent increase to council members' pay and an affordable-housing bond that advocates for the poor say is too small. The arguments on both matters cross party lines.

“I have my doubts whether we'll pass a budget Monday,” said councilman Anthony Foxx, a Democrat who has sided with Republicans in trying to eliminate the pay increase. “The compensation issue and the affordable housing issue have created a really indecipherable set of allies on the council.”

Supporters of a pay increase, which includes a $4,000 car allowance for council members, say it's necessary to offset the increasing cost of gas. They also say a salary boost, which would put council members' annual pay at $29,900, could encourage a wider spectrum of people to seek seats on the council. Opponents argue that the money for the increase – about $77,000 – could be better spent elsewhere.

The affordable housing matter is more complex. The proposed budget includes a $10million affordable housing bond that would go before voters in November. But the amount is a third of what advocates for the homeless have requested. In asking for $30million, they cite a study that says the city will be short 17,000 affordable housing units in the next four years.

At a budget meeting in May, council members talked about possible ways to increase the bond, but none of the options garnered enough support to pass. Options included taking money from road projects and sidewalk and neighborhood development programs.

Some Republicans have resisted increasing the bond, as have Democrats who say too much affordable housing already is clustered in their districts.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess, a Democrat, said Friday that she plans to offer a compromise that sets the bond amount at $19.4 million. The option would advance some money now scheduled for a 2010 affordable housing bond and take money from neighborhood improvement planning.

“It's not what anybody wanted,” Burgess said.

Councilman John Lassiter, a Republican who is in favor of boosting the bond, has said he thinks there's enough support on the council to do it. He could not be reached Friday.

Even if the housing bond stayed at $10 million, the city would be approving the biggest city bond package put before voters in more than a decade. About three-quarters of the $227.2 million would go to transportation projects.