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Charlotte City Manager: no property tax increase next year, but higher water rates

Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton is recommending a $1.87 billion budget for next fiscal year with no property tax increase, but the spending plan does include higher water rates. Walton's proposed budget would keep property taxes steady, but raise water rates by 5.2 percent. That comes out to a couple extra dollars per month for the average water user. Walton also recommends adding two extra tiers to stormwater fees so that people with large amounts of concrete or asphalt surfaces on their property would pay more. Besides that, the City Manager says there aren't many changes to the budget already in place. Many of the mid-year cuts would continue next year, which, Walton says, would help put the city in a unique position. "This is certainly a difference because of the economy. In the general fund, for example, we've never had a budget recommended to you that's actually lower in dollars than the budget you approved last June," said Walton. Walton's spending plan would dedicate more money to street re-surfacing. It would also cut money to most non-profit organizations by 2 percent, except for those groups that the city says directly help people get out of tough economic situations. Walton did not set aside money to bring on the 150 new police officers Police Chief Rodney Monroe requested. Instead, he's hoping stimulus money will cover those new hires. That did not sit well with Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Burgess. "When we have our police chief telling us we need additional officers and then we don't budget them in our general fund, it's concerning," said Burgess. The public can weigh in on the budget May 26th. The City Council is expected to adopt a budget on June 8th. Last night the City Council also voted 7 to 4 to ask state lawmakers to give Mecklenburg County the authority to levy a second half-cent sales tax for transit. The state House approved a bill last month that would allow large urban areas to ask voters whether they want to raise a half-cent sales tax to support local transit. Mecklenburg County wasn't included on that bill. Several city council members who supported the change had said they didn't want to levy the tax any time soon, if at all. A few of those used the phrase "it would give us another tool in the toolbox." Craig Nannini was one of a couple dozen people who came last night to protest Mecklenburg County's addition to the bill. "I'm a tinker. I buy tools. But I have never yet put a tool in my toolbox that I haven't planned on using," said Nannini. Councilman John Lassiter said he'll try not to use that metaphor, but: "We do not have enough ways for Charlotte to ultimately deal with its long term needs. We get very few opportunities where we can catch on to a bill or an idea that may give us some opportunity in the future," said Lassiter. Mecklenburg County commissioners have expressed concerns about pushing for that taxing authority. Charlotte-area lawmakers have said local officials should present a united front if they want Mecklenburg County to be included in the bill.