Dozens pack Mecklenburg County Commissioners meeting to support proposed sales tax referendum that would benefit arts programs

Mecklenburg County leaders discuss possibility of raising sales tax

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It was a packed house inside the meeting chambers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Tuesday night. Several people at the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners meeting waned to show their support for arts programs in Charlotte.

Many people at the meeting were armed with colorful signs that read 'Arts for All' and 'I Love Art'. One by one, different community members and stakeholders took turns addressing the elected leaders about a proposed sales tax referendum. The sales tax would increase by a quarter cent, but could bring in $50 million a year, according the the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts and Science Council.

The council has requested that $20 million of the funds that would be generated by the new tax increase go to arts and cultural projects. They suggested that the other $30 million be available for other county projects like parks, greenways and public education.

One by one, supporters of the referendum addressed the commissioners Tuesday night, asking that the elected leaders put the referendum on the November ballot.

"Arts unify people. Arts belong to the community," said Carlos Cruz, a professor at UNC Charlotte.

Several community members spoke about how arts programs had personally impacted their lives. Patrice Gopo, a literary artist, spoke about a book she had written and the important role the arts have had in her life.

"Our community is a better place because of what the arts and science council does to support the work of individual artists like me," said Gopo.

Francisco Alvarado, the president and CEO of Marand Builders, a construction company, spoke about how arts programs and events make the Queen City a desirable place to live in.

"A lot of the symphony, opera, that's what really attracts people and makes a vibrant city where you wanna live, where you wanna move," said Alvarado.

After each speaker finished addressing the commissioners, the crowd would erupt in supportive applause. Once every speaker had finished, the commissioners took a turn sharing their thoughts on the referendum proposal.

While many said they were supportive of the arts, some were skeptical about placing the referendum on the November ballot.

"As much enthusiasm as the 200 or 250 people who are here tonight, I just wonder, I have a hard time believing that the whole county is going to be as supportive," said commissioner Pat Cotham.

Cotham spoke about how a similar referendum had failed in years past and noted that she's worried about increasing the sales tax after the county just recently finished up a property revaluation.

Commissioner Trevor Fuller said he was unsure voters would be aware of what the tax increase would actually be funding once the election rolls around.

"If you haven't heard about the campaign of what the quarter cent sales tax was for, when you get in to the voting booth, what do you think your answer will be to that question? 'Do I want to tax myself?' 'No! I don't want to tax myself!'" explained Fuller.

Commissioners voted Tuesday night to meet in one week to discuss specific details about the allocation of the money that would be generated by the new tax.

They plan to vote on whether or not to put the referendum on the November ballot at their meeting on July 2nd.

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