Thu March 21, 2013
Charlotte City Council Still Stalled Over Streetcar
After nearly a year of deliberations, the Charlotte City Council met Wednesday to outline a compromise plan for raising property taxes to fund capital improvement projects. But they're still hung up over the sticking point that derailed the nearly $1 billion program last year: the streetcar.
It really does feel like déjà vu. Even members of the city council have lost count of the special meetings they've held trying to work out their differences on whether to raise property taxes for a billion dollars worth of infrastructure and economic development projects.
Hoping to "divide and conquer," the council split into committees and spent months reviewing pieces of the plan – only to return yesterday and recommend funding virtually everything. . . except the streetcar.
Mayor Anthony Foxx - the streetcar's main advocate - is none too pleased.
"If we didn't do streetcar, does anybody have an idea how we're going to revitalize Central Avenue and Beatties Ford Road?" Foxx asked the council. "Because if the answer is 'Nothing,' that's unacceptable."
Five council members are with Foxx in wanting to spend $119 million from the property tax increase to add about two and a half miles to the one mile of streetcar track already under way. It would then stretch beyond Uptown, but would still require millions more to reach Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue as Foxx envisions.
"I think the goal here was to create a catalyst project - not necessarily to get 10 miles of streetcar, but to prove the concept," said Foxx. "And to get some energy into these corridors."
Fine, said Councilwoman Claire Fallon, let's just put the cash directly into those neighborhoods.
"It would get sidewalks and lighting," said Fallon. "I would subsidize grocery stores we don't have there - because we subsidize everything and its brother. Why not a grocery store and give those people a chance to have decent stores?"
Fallon is one of six city council members who remain adamant the streetcar should not be funded through property taxes. They'd like to punt the project to a new task force looking for ways to raise more money for transit projects in general.
"The streetcar is still a stopper for me," said Councilman Andy Dulin. "And it's a stopper for the community. And it's a divider for this council."
And those dividing lines have not budged from a year ago – when six council members cut the streetcar from the capital plan only to be vetoed by the mayor.