No prop tax increase needed - for now - by Charlotte city council

Multiple subjects on the menu at Charlotte City Council retreat

DURHAM, N.C. (WBTV) – No property tax increase needed - that’s one of the main takeaways for Charlotte homeowners during the second day of Charlotte city council’s annual retreat.

Budget Director Ryan Bergman told council that, while there is a slight projected deficit for FY21, the numbers weren’t dire enough to constitute a property tax increase to meet budget shortfalls.

“Under current fiscal conditions and barring unforeseen changes, the existing tax rate should be adequate to support current programs and services,” a slide shared by the budget director read.

“Current” being one of the key words. City council is yet to finalize its goal, priorities and policies for the 2020 calendar year that will be reflected in the FY21 budget.

Bergman said there would be a $6.8 million deficit in the upcoming year at current spending levels but that budget tweaking could solve the problem instead of new revenues. The deficit is largely due to $13 million in new employee pay raises.

A couple of other budget problems Bergman outlined:

- Police retirement. A new “separation allowance” implemented by the state gives police officers little incentive not to retire. As a result officers the amount of officers retiring per year has essentially doubled since 2015.

- The state has increased the amount of employer retirement contribution for local employees by 1.2% resulting in a $3.8 million shortfall.

While FY21 looks clear there are major questions about funding for public transportation.

City council spent the second half of the day talking about ideas and potential capital investments for the bus system and rail line moving forward.

A large amount of focus was centered on improving CATS bus system. The most recent numbers shared with WBTV show that CATS on-time arrival is just at 85%.

“We’ve got to invest in our bus system to make it efficient and make people want to use it,” Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said.

The goal in improving the bus system is to advance the entire transportation network the City of Charlotte has to offer. Some LYNX riders have told WBTV that the light rail and busses don’t sync up well and slow down their travel time.

Some of the ideas discussed included creating more bus dedicated lanes, improving bus stops, hiring more drivers and adding more routes.

“If you’re sitting in traffic on Providence Rd and you see a bus zoom by in a dedicated bus lane you might decide to take the bus next time,” Eiselt said.

But one of the main issues staring down council and city staff is how to pay for these transportation initiatives. While no concrete dollar figure has been discussed yet it’s widely expect the LYNX Silver Line and other CATS initiatives will cost billions of dollars.

“Let’s not forever just talk about all these different light rail lines, all these different road backlogs everything we have and have no plausible way to fund them,” Councilman Tariq Bokhari said.

But city council still looks likely to forge ahead with priorities and plans before getting specific dollar figures from city staff later.

“We’ve got to have staff come back to us with numbers of what we’re really talking about and we can’t be afraid to ask that question and find out what that really means,” Eiselt said.

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