The city of Charlotte’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year has money for new programs – but City Manager Marcus Jones is recommending the property tax rate stay at what’s known as “revenue-neutral.”
That means the city would collect about the same amount of money as a year ago, even as property values have risen in most parts of the city.
He says the city is worried about longtime homeowners in areas where property values increased significantly after this year’s countywide revaluation. Those are historically poor neighborhoods near uptown like Washington Heights, where property values have sometimes have more than doubled.
"When we started to brief council and we started to see the heat map about the biggest increases, we started to see that some of the lowest priced homes, like the $200,000 homes, were having a much higher increase than our higher priced homes," Jones said.
He said a tax increase was off the table early.
"I don’t think we even had one conversation about having a tax rate increase," he said.
If someone owns a house valued at $250,000 last year – and has risen to $350,000 under the revaluation – that person’s city taxes would essentially stay the same. Their county tax bill would increase by just under $9 a month.
Still, the city’s general fund budget will grow by nearly 5 percent, to just under $728 million. The city's total budget — which includes enterprise funds like the airport, as well as its capital program — is $2.6 billion.
Two years ago, the city made the minimum pay for all full-time workers $15 an hour. The proposed budget would increase that minimum to $16 an hour for employees who work in areas like solid waste.
Jones says he's also working to get police officers to their highest pay point faster. His budget would consolidate some "step" increases from 2.5 percent to 5 percent. As officers move through their career, they move up a pay ladder that has several steps that increase their pay.
City Council member Ed Driggs says the city is struggling to retain officers and make new hires, and he wants to make sure the city budget makes CMPD competitive,
"Obviously the police pay issue is very sensitive in light of what’s going on right now," he said. "Are we comfortable that we’re doing enough? So we know how these staffing levels, or the current conditions that we’re experiencing?"
Last year, voters approved a $50 million housing bond, instead of the usual $15 million bond that voters were asked to approve in past years. Jones wants another $50 million bond next year.
He also is proposing $6.4 million in new money to invest in old apartment complexes, and using deed restrictions to keep them affordable. City Council earlier this year voted to spend $2.1 million
And Jones says he has found $54 million from a number of accounts – including the city’s debt service fund – to help finish almost all of the Cross Charlotte Trail.
"That money would be available right after council approves the budget," Jones said.
After that money is spent, there would still be two segments left to the built, in northeast Mecklenburg.
Water bills scheduled to go up by $2.20 a month for the average user, and the city’s solid waste fee will increase by a $1 a month.
Bus and rail fares for the Charlotte Area Transit System would not increase under the proposed budget.