As the Charlotte City Council works to find agreement on a proposed tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements, Mayor Anthony Foxx is pitching his preferred approach in town hall meetings across the city. Thursday night, he ventured into unfriendly territory at the Ballantyne Hotel where a crowd of about 100 challenged his proposal.
Mayor Foxx was about 30 minutes into his presentation explaining the rationale for a $1 billion infrastructure plan paid for by a 3.5 cent property tax hike before he finally mentioned the piece he knew would draw fire from the group.
"How many people have heard about the streetcar?" he asked the crowd, chuckling when most hands went up. "Yeah, I figured a few of you had."
The streetcar is just $110 million of the one-billion plan for roads, sidewalks and targeted improvements in struggling neighborhoods. . . but to some South Charlotte residents, it's a symbol of all that's wrong with the Mayor's approach.
Scott Babbidge says Foxx's insistence on using tax dollars to subsidize light rail and the streetcar is a way of forcing people to live and work where the government wants.
"That is social engineering by its definition," said Babbidge. "Versus driving a car - I get to go where I want when I want on the route that I want."
At that point, another member of the audience started shouting about the streetcar – how it's unnecessary and only benefits people Uptown.
"I look at a city like New York – and we're not New York, don't want to be New York, but I think the case for transit is pretty strong," replied Foxx.
"You're not shoving it down our throats!" yelled Joe DeMato.
"I think the answer is to be the Mayor of all of Charlotte," added Tim Timmerman who is a leader of the South Mecklenburg Alliance for Responsible Taxpayers- or SMART.
South Charlotte property taxes account for half the city's revenue. Members of SMART say they're tired of subsidizing the rest of the city and think the Mayor's infrastructure plan - yet again - invests in Uptown interests.
Mayor Foxx argues the goal is to attract development and improve property values in declining neighborhoods East, North and West of Uptown.
Otherwise, said Foxx, "we will become more and more dependent on a smaller part of our city for tax base growth. You shouldn't want that anymore than I would."
Many residents of South Charlotte agree with that – but their pushing for a different solution: They'd like to secede from Charlotte all together, become the Town of Providence and keep their tax dollars to themselves.