Council Rejects Tax Increase, Funds Knights Stadium
Uptown Charlotte will be home to minor league baseball. Charlotte City council Moday night approved the final installment of public financing of a stadium for the Charlotte Knights. But the bigger and surprising news to emerge from the meeting was the defeat of a property tax increase that would have funded infrastructure improvements in struggling areas. The decision drew a strong rebuke from Mayor Anthony Foxx. A mere two weeks ago, the proposed 8 percent property tax hike for infrastructure projects had enough votes to pass, despite reservations on the part of a few council members. But last night, those council members changed their minds and defeated the plan 6 to 5. Mayor Anthony Foxx was stunned. "What has just been done tonight is perhaps the most irresponsible decision I've seen the city council make in history," said Foxx. Newcomers to the council - Democrats Claire Fallon and Beth Pickering - were key to defeating the tax increase. Both had previously indicated they would support it, but last night, Pickering said it's a "terrible time" to raise taxes. "We've got a high unemployment rate; we're looking at a water and sewer bill increase; a storm water increase; a CATS fare increase - and of course the mother of all increases - the county (property) revaluation," said Pickering. "I just think our citizens need time to recover from the blows they've taken." Republicans Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey also voted against raising property taxes - as they'd promised from the start of budget efforts two months ago. More surprising was the opposition last night of Democrats Patrick Cannon and Michael Barnes, whose northeast Charlotte district stood to receive nearly one-quarter of the $926 million the tax increase would have raised. Barnes objected to spending $120 million building a streetcar line across Uptown without including any money in the budget for operating it: "We don't have any funding in place to even maintain the (streetcars) right now," said Barnes after the vote. "That bothers me." In defeating the tax increase, council also rejected the city's proposed operating budget for 2013. They did, however, manage a vote of 7 to 4 in support of spending a little over $7 million of the city's hotel tax dollars to help construct a new uptown baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights. Charlotte Center City Partners will contribute another $750,000. Councilman Andy Dulin says he supported the funding because the Knights' owner must come up with the full $54 million cost to build the stadium before getting any money from the city. "He has to build that thing - every blade of grass, every chair, every window pane, every door every coca cola dispenser - and start playing baseball before the citizens of Charlotte participate with a dime," says Dulin. "Quite honestly, to put it in poker terms, I think we've got the pot right, finally." Charlotte Knights owner Don Beaver says the vote is a relief, but admits the team still has work to do. "We'll need a commitment from the banks - some type of commitment from - the banks, which we've been working on for several months now," said Beaver. "This was a big piece to get done." The Knights must have a full financing plan in place by June 30 to meet a deadline imposed by Mecklenburg County. The County has offered $8 million dollars for the stadium and free use of land worth more than $20 million. The Knights hope to begin playing ball Uptown by the spring of 2014. Mayor Foxx accused the council of being short-sighted to fund a baseball stadium but reject plans for major infrastructure improvements. "Congratulations to those who wanted to see baseball happen, but let me tell you that I'm very concerned about the long-term future of this city," said Foxx. "This council has 2 weeks to figure out what it's going to do. And I will not hesitate to veto a budget that falls short of what I think this city needs to tackle." The council must now come up with a budget that includes a smaller tax increase, or none at all before their next meeting on June 25. That's just days before the June 30 deadline by which the city is legally required to adopt a budget for the next fiscal year.