City of Charlotte can’t answer how tax funds are being spent on big projects ahead of MLS decision

City of Charlotte can’t answer how tax funds are being spent on big projects ahead of MLS decision

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Just how much money the City of Charlotte owes from three of its most significant capital project funds is a total mystery. City council members asked months ago for a list of capital projects the city is pledged to but City Manager Marcus Jones has not provided that information as important financial decisions loom over the city.

The lack of transparency overshadows a big city council decision: whether to fund more than $100 million in renovations to equip Bank of America Stadium for a soccer team in the case Charlotte is awarded an Major League Soccer franchise.

Two of the funds in question are the Convention Center Tax Fund and the Convention Center Debt Service Fund. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority helps to generate the revenue that is made up of the three percent occupancy and food and beverage tax.

According to city financial records analyzed by WBTV, the Convention Center Tax Fund has not had any meaningful increase in the fund balance since FY 2016. Excluding revenues from the two tax sources the fund draws on, the fund balance is just $2.4 million.

During the city council meeting on September 23rd several council members asked Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones to produce a schedule of capital projects that are, or plan to be, funded by the tax fund. Those records have not been provided to council members or to WBTV.

“We do not have…the schedule of the capital projects and the dates. So we should have that,” Councilman Ed Driggs said during the September 23rd meeting.

“We see this time and time again with city projects that they go away and we didn’t know that they went away,” Mayor Pro-Tem Julie Eiselt said during the meeting.

“We just really need overall a ten-year schedule of how that money was going to be used.”

The request for those fund schedules was brought up during a vote on increasing funding for the $114 million convention center renovation. WBTV later learned that same night that city council was first approached in closed session about funding more then $100 million in renovations to Bank of America Stadium to help the city’s bid for an MLS team. No decision has been made yet by council to approve that funding.

City Manager Marcus Jones promised city council that he would provide them with the Convention Center Tax Fund schedule they requested.

“We’ll give you this week what’s planned for that fund related to the convention center,” Jones said.

Later in the meeting Charlotte Chief Financial Officer Kelly Flannery told council that the city is projecting to have a Convention Center Tax Fund balance of $75 million. But that did not account for future appropriations nor did it detail other projects on the horizon for the city.

“The number you are asking about is capacity. We need to figure out what the project list is before we can determine the capacity,” Flannery said.

Two and half months later that list has still not been provided according to council members WBTV spoke to.

WBTV emailed the city public relations team asking why the projects schedule has not been provided, even though it was promised by the city manager.

A city spokesperson confirmed that no document had been provided to city council and referred only to Flannery’s statements in council chambers about information given to council. Another city spokesperson told WBTV that some council members have had conversations with city staffers about the fund but council sources confirm to WBTV that no schedule has been provided.

The spokesperson also provided a link to the city’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report to show the most recent balance for the Convention Center Tax Fund. That document did not list any specific expenditures but listed the fund balance at the time at $73.7 million.

More recent budgets though raise more questions about where the money is going.

According to the City of Charlotte’s FY 2020 adopted budget both the Convention Center Tax Fund and Convention Center Debt Service Fund have broken exactly even year after year since FY 2016. According to other city financial reports the tax fund has not seen any sizeable increase since FY 2016 when the balance was $74.4 million.

A spokesperson for the CRVA sent WBTV three documents outlining what debt service was paid by the fund in FY 2016. At that time a combined $21.3 million was spent on debt service for the convention center and Bank of American Stadium. According to the most recent adopted budget debt expenses now top $38.2 million although there is no indication of what those payments are going toward.

The CRVA documents from 2017 also list that the total debt capacity for the hospitality tax revenue sources at roughly $589 million. It also lists several, at the time, future projects which are now outdated.

The Debt Service Fund is used to pay off debt related to the Convention Center Tax Fund. The FY 2020 adopted budget does not provide any specifics about which projects those expenditures are going to pay off. Since FY 2017 more than $129 million has been used to pay off debt and related interest and charges for projects that are not listed in that portion of the budget.

The Tourism Operating Fund and the Hall of Fame Tax Fund are also breaking even according to the most recent budget. The Tourism Fund, used to pay for convention and visitor promotion, coliseums and auditoriums, and the Hall of Fame Fund, used to pay for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, have been spending the entirety of their revenues every year since FY 2017.

Copyright 2019 WBTV. All rights reserved.