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Public Conversations is an ongoing series of community forums designed to convene Charlotte-area residents for discussion of timely and relevant topics. Our goal is to create comfortable settings that encourage a stimulating and enlightening exchange of ideas. By organizing these Public Conversations, WFAE intends to serve as a catalyst for community dialogue. Participants are encouraged to engage in conversation with a cross-section of community representatives, expert panelists, and with each other.

One Charlotte, Or Many? A WFAE Public Conversations Preview

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It's time again for the city of Charlotte to draw up its annual budget – including a renewed push to raise property taxes for capital projects. Last year's capital investment program proved so large – and divisive – that the council and mayor couldn't agree on any plan.  They still can't. And in the interim, those divisions have proven to run deeper than city council politics.  They've shown up across Charlotte and they're the topic of a special WFAE public forum Thursday at 7 p.m. at Spirit Square. 

WFAE's Julie Rose will moderate that event and she joined substitute Morning Edition host Ben Bradford in studio to discuss it.   

BRADFORD: Julie, are these divisions new? 

ROSE: Of course, there are always divisions in a community – neighborhoods that feel neglected, citizens that feel like their tax dollars are being wasted. But you know, Mayor Anthony Foxx the other night did seem to suggest things have grown worse. Here's an excerpt from Monday's council meeting:

"One thing that I continue to worry about is that our city is having a harder time pulling for itself," said Foxx. "The future of our city is actually a little cloudy."

BRADFORD: What does he mean by that?

ROSE: When he says "pulling for itself" – I think what he's really talking about there is "pulling together." Look at this really ugly fight locally – and with Raleigh - over who should control the Charlotte Airport – that is clearly on the Mayor's mind. 

But you can also look at the city council's total inability to agree on a capital investment program – and particularly the idea of a streetcar. I'm sure that'll come up in our public conversation tonight at Spirit Square. 

The fact is, Charlotte has grown enormously for decades by annexing neighborhoods as they have sprung up. What you get today is very distinct parts of the city with very distinct needs – and some real frustration from all quadrants of the city. One of our guests tonight is Tim Timmerman with a group in South Charlotte that would actually like to secede from the city. Here's a bit from him.

"You can talk – the stadiums, all the things that have built – all that concrete jungle that's uptown - that hasn't done a darn thing for South Mecklenburg," said Timmerman at a community meeting in 2012. "We have been the ATM for the city."

BRADFORD: How has South Mecklenburg been an "ATM for the city?"

ROSE: Well, that's interesting. If you look at all the property taxes the city collects, half of them come from South Charlotte. On a map, that area looks like a wedge and that's where we get this talk about the city's tax base being way out of whack with this one wedge in South Charlotte subsidizing many of the older, declining neighborhoods that form a crescent around Uptown. And depending on where you live in the city, you have a really different view on how tax dollars should be spent.

BRADFORD: So, Thursday night you have the new City Manager Ron Carlee on the panel to give his take on the challenges. Who else?

ROSE: We'll have representatives from several neighborhood associations in different parts of town to offer a broad perspective – and we're hoping the audience will chime in, too, for some good discussion.

BRADFORD: Okay, thanks Julie.


WFAE Public Conversation "One Charlotte, Or Many?"

7 p.m. in McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square

Free registration is online at wfae.org.