Proposed Tax Hike Driving A Wedge Between South Charlotte, Rest Of City
Some residents of south Charlotte held signs expressing their oppisition of proposed tax increase. Photo: Julie Rose A city plan to raise property taxes by 8 percent and use the money to give several struggling neighborhoods a boost is fanning the flames of discontent in south Charlotte. Half of all property taxes the city collects are from the area between South Park and Ballantyne. City officials want to bring more balance to that equation by investing in struggling areas. To do that, they say they need to raise taxes. The plan has a touched a nerve. The tax hike proposal is like salt in a wound for people in south Charlotte who are already enraged at the higher tax bills forced upon them by last year's revaluation. "Some have taken out loans to pay for their back taxes or their taxes from last year," said Sarah Cherne. She was one of about a dozen south Charlotte residents to speak against the proposed tax increase at a city council hearing this week. "Others (in south Charlotte) have had to leverage their 401K accounts and many others have placed their home on the market in hopes to move south as they claim they are being taxed out of their community," said Cherne. Dozens more people waved angry signs from the audience. The neon lettering on one yelled "end unfair bias against south Charlotte!" Ed Driggs wanted to know why south Charlotte residents should have to take an even bigger tax hit just to make small property value improvements in lagging neighborhoods? "That's gonna be a $4 billion increase in the value of properties in the 'crescent' funded 50 percent by taxes paid by people in the 'wedge,'" said Driggs. "And you're trying to tell people in the wedge that this is a reason they should like this proposal? It's an affront!" "Wedge" and "crescent" were words City Manager Curt Walton used in laying out his plan for the tax increase. On a map of the city he contrasted the affluent pie-slice of south Charlotte with the struggling crescent-like swath that stretches from west Charlotte, north of Uptown and east to Independence Boulevard. The manager's point was to illustrate an income gap that he says will only get worse unless the city makes a dramatic - and immediate - investment in lagging areas. But the words themselves have become a wedge, says Mayor Anthony Foxx. "I am growing more concerned about this discussion of a dichotomy in our city between the 'wedge' and the so-called 'crescent,'" Foxx said at the close of the public hearing. "It is not the city that I believe in. This is one city." The divide spilled over into yesterday's city council meeting where the sole Republicans - Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin - led a last-ditch effort to scrap the tax hike. People are still struggling from the recession, argued Dulin, "(They're) stopping me at the grocery store - they're stopping me at the soccer field on Saturday mornings - and they're saying 'What are you thinking?'" said Dulin. Besides, added Cooksey, what proof do we have that the projects we're going to fund with this tax hike will really bring the economic impact we're hoping for? He and Dulin want the council to slow down and study the plan for another year. Both represent the districts that form that south Charlotte wedge, including Ballantyne where calls to secede from Charlotte are growing. Councilman Michael Barnes basically called them selfish. "You've got people saying 'We want to be out of the city and we don't want to contribute to anything and take care of me, me, me, me, and I want my own school system and I want my own town,'" said Barnes. "What you get is this sort of bitter division that we're seeing on the national level that's ripping the country apart and now it's being visited on us in Charlotte." A seething Dulin retorted: "I'm about to get fired up over here Mike. Your attitude is not appreciated from this side of the table." "Neither is yours!" fired Barnes. The two began talking over each other until Mayor Foxx intervened. Ultimately, the Cooksey-Dulin plan to scrap the tax hike failed by a vote of 2 to 9. But many of the nine who voted to keep the plan alive still have reservations. Mayor Foxx is hoping to shrink the entire plan by 10 percent before they take a final vote on June 11th. That would reduce the proposed tax hike by about a third of a cent - hardly enough to comfort angry taxpayers, but maybe enough to show the city council hasn't completely ignored their pleas.