City Council split over streetcar funding

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A group of city leaders made a last-ditch effort Thursday afternoon to save a streetcar program in a multimillion dollar tug-of-war that has tax bills of Charlotte’s residents in the center.

The group wants to keep the funding for the streetcar extension program in next year’s budget, even if it means higher taxes. The streetcar is the largest construction project in the budget at $119 million.

The city has already funded a stretch from the transit center to Presbyterian Hospital in uptown Charlotte.

The fight being waged now is over the extensions on either end.

The latest budget proposal was emailed to City Council members Thursday afternoon. Part of the newest proposal cuts funding for the streetcar project, slashing $269 million from the proposal that was voted down in a meeting about a week ago.

However, supporters continued to make their case for the project’s benefits during a news conference at Johnson C. Smith University on Thursday.

State Sen. Malcolm Graham said the streetcar would be a valuable tool that would revitalize areas around the city.

“It’s an economic development tool, a transportation option,” he said.

But the 2.5-mile extension from east to west Charlotte is a costly option that would likely mean higher property taxes for residents.

For Council members David Howard, Patsy Kinsey and Lawana Mayfield, the property tax increase is a fair trade.

The three voted to approve the mayor’s proposed budget that included the streetcar program. However, it was struck down because of the proposed 8 percent property tax hike to help fund it.

Since then, City Council members who voted against the proposal have been hashing out nearly a dozen scenarios that would lower the proposed tax hike and cut or delay the streetcar program.

“Council members are finally coming to the conclusion that the streetcar is not a good idea,” said Councilman Andy Dulin on Wednesday.

He said in a phone interview on Thursday that his position had not changed.

Mayfield said she would not support any proposal that would delay or cut the streetcar program.

On Friday afternoon, a group of City Council members working on the budget scenarios will hold a briefing to discuss the proposed cuts.