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Charlotte Area

Streetcar Debate Sidelined As Council Focuses On Rest of City Budget

Julie Rose

The Charlotte City Council learned Wednesday the price of its inaction on a capital investment plan. What they could have done last year by increasing the property tax rate 3.6 cents will now require an increase of more than 4 cents – and that doesn't even include the controversial streetcar. 

The streetcar was always the sticking point.  City council members agree on the need for virtually every other road, street or economic improvement project– in the original billion-dollar plan proposed last year. 

But in the year they've been hemming and hawing over the streetcar, the cost to do those other projects has gone up and the value of the properties they can tax to pay for them is going down, thanks to the county's botched 2011 revaluation and current re-do.  

"Which is one of the reasons why I thought it was not an option to vote for nothing (last year), because it was obvious there would be escalating costs after a year's time," says Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon. "And so now we found ourselves in a place where the numbers were a lot higher than one would have anticipated."

The exact increase will be announced in a few weeks when new City Manager Ron Carlee makes his official budget recommendation to the city council. It'll probably be in the range of 3 cents per $100 of assessed value. That's about $63 a year on the tax bill of a $200,000 home.

One thing that won't be in the manager's proposal? The streetcar. Carlee says he needs more time to study the project.

"The economic impact of the streetcar is a critical variable that needs to be understood," says Carlee. "I want time to properly analyze it."

Carlee says he's also looking for other ways to pay for it besides raising property taxes – which has been the hang up for several council members.

The streetcar's number one advocate – Mayor Anthony Foxx – says he's willing to give Carlee the time and will even consider a capital investment plan that does not include a streetcar. That's a reversal from last year, when Foxx vetoed a capital investment plan because it was missing the streetcar.

"I just want us to excise our demons and move on," says Foxx.

Carlee hopes to have his streetcar analysis done before the council has to approve a final budget at the end of June.

But that worries Councilman Andy Dulin – a staunch streetcar opponent:  "Somewhere right before we vote you're going to either insert the streetcar into the budget or not insert it into the budget? I disagree with that process."

The mayor and council will take a temporary reprieve from their streetcar bickering to focus on the rest of the city budget. Meanwhile Ron Carlee will try to work a miracle and bring the divided council into streetcar harmony in just two months – when they've been unable to do it themselves in 12.