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Charlotte Council Rekindles Tax Hike Debate

Mayor Foxx making a final plea to the city council for approval of the 8 percent tax hike on May 25, 2012. Photo: Julie Rose.
Julie Rose
Mayor Foxx making a final plea to the city council for approval of the 8 percent tax hike on May 25, 2012. Photo: Julie Rose.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is convening a special meeting of the city council Thursday to re-start debate over raising taxes to pay for streets, sidewalks and a streetcar.

Three months ago, Mayor Foxx's plan to boost the property tax rate by 3 and a half cents and use the money for nearly a $1 billion worth of projects, collapsed in a series of surprise city council votes.

Foxx hasn't let it drop since - even taking the opportunity to nudge council members during the groundbreaking of an uptown stadium a few weeks back.

"We can do whatever we put our minds to as a community - so that is a message not only for today but to my city council colleagues that's a message for the next several months," said Foxx.

While audience members at the groundbreaking scratched their heads, council members knew exactly what Foxx meant.

Tomorrow they begin a series of work sessions at the mayor's request. In a letter to council, Foxx said he is open to a smaller tax increase and list of projects, but only if they happen on an accelerated timeline.

The streetcar remains a sticking point - Foxx wants to build it through uptown with $110 million in property taxes. Democrat Michael Barnes led a 6-5 council vote to defeat that plan.

"I view tomorrow as a fresh start," says Barnes.  He still opposes funding the streetcar entirely through property taxes, but says he's exploring other funding options.

Even if they overcome their differences on the streetcar, council members still face the daunting prospect of getting voter-approval for the tax increase on the same ballot with which they'll be up for re-election in 2013.

Calls from constituents like the one Republican Andy Dulin got today won't make that easy.

"I got a call from a little old lady today who is retired," says Dulin, whose stance has always been that a 2 or 3 cent tax rate increase is too much in the current economy. "She goes, 'Mr. Dulin, my husband and I are both retired. We can hardly afford our medicine. We just can't afford our property tax.'  I don't think she knew about tomorrow's meeting."

The meeting comes several months before the city council would traditionally begin budget discussions. Mayor Foxx hopes the extra time will help avoid the disintegration of support that doomed his plan the first time.