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Local News

Charlotte To Ask Voters For $204M Bond

http://66.225.205.104/JR20100823.mp3

The Charlotte City Council is expected tonight to approve a $204 million bond package that will go before voters in November. Getting deeper into debt seems like a risky move at a time of budget cuts and economic recession. But officials at the City of Charlotte say they are well within the safe level of debt and the city will easily pay off the new bonds without raising taxes. Besides, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon says the city's growing and needs the money. "We know that there are tough times," says Cannon. "We do understand, as well, that people deserve quality neighborhoods and there's a real need in some of our neighborhoods (for) curb and gutter and sidewalks. Look at all the flooding we're going through right now." And look at the city's ongoing need for more affordable housing, adds Cannon. Of the $200 million bond package, about $32 million will go for neighborhood improvements like curbs and gutters; $15 million for affordable housing; and the rest - some $157 million - will be spent on road improvements. City budget and evaluation director Ruffin Hall says there are several good reasons to go approve the bonds now, rather than wait for the economy to improve. "The municipal bond market rates are absolutely fantastic right now and we're getting excellent bid prices for our construction," says Hall. The construction industry is so slow that companies are eager for work and offering much lower prices on the city's bids, explains Hall. Plus, city staff estimate the road projects will create about 18,000 jobs, so getting into debt will be an economic boost for the area. That's partly what sold the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce on the bond proposal. "Our executive committee met and voted to not only endorse (the bonds) but to lead the campaign as we have done for previous community referenda issues," says Natalie English, senior vice president of public policy for the Charlotte Chamber. The challenge will be selling the bond to the public when there's a widespread perception that local government is already deeply in debt. That's true of Mecklenburg County, which opted not to issue bonds this year. But the City of Charlotte has for many years consistently squirreled away tax revenues to pay for this bond without raising taxes. City officials insist comparing the city and county on debt is apples to oranges. Once the city council votes to place the bond on the ballot tonight, they'll have until November 2nd to make their case.