Budget cuts could push Charlotte’s sidewalk improvements down the road

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte’s city sidewalks program is looking at budget cuts.

Faced with the first city-wide property tax increase in years, Charlotte city council wanted to lessen the blow to taxpayers. Instead of a 1.5 cent tax increase, the proposed budget now includes a 1.36 cent tax increase - but that also means cuts to capital investments.

Among those programs on the chopping block is the city’s sidewalk program. Initially allotted $50 million over the next two years, the cuts would decrease that funding to $20 million.

For Sustain Charlotte, which has been advocating for improved walkability and safer pedestrian infrastructure, the change came as a disappointment.

“Most of us are pedestrians at some point in our day-to-day life, even if that’s just for a short stretch and everyone deserves to be able to move along the street safely,” Meg Fencil, Sustain Charlotte’s director of engagement and impact, said.

In many city neighborhoods, especially those in areas that have historically not seen much city investment, there are sidewalks to nowhere, sidewalks that stop in the middle of the block, bus stops sitting along the side of the road with no clear path to get to or from them, and desire paths worn into the ground from walkers forging their own way out of necessity.

“We already have a huge backlog of sidewalk building that didn’t happen in Charlotte,” Fencil said. “Sometimes it seems like a problem where we can kick the can down the road for a few more years but that just means that residents go longer and longer without safe places to walk.”

Councilmember Victoria Watlington introduced the cuts because she felt a 1.5 cent property tax increase, along with other cost-of-living increases Charlotteans will have to endure over the next few years, wasn’t fair.

“We’ve got to figure out how to ensure that our property taxpayers can withstand increases not only from our government but also from the county, from CMS bonds and beyond,” she said.

She said it doesn’t necessarily have to be sidewalks taking the hit, but something has to give, and it’s up to the council to figure out its priorities before it votes.

“There are conversations that we could be having that we are not having,” she said. “There should be no sacred cows at this point.”

Watlington said that conversation should have started months ago, not in May when the city manager introduced the tax increase.

As it stands, reducing the increase from 1.5 cents to 1.36 cents means the average property owner’s tax increase will be about $54 less per year.

To Fencil, that’s not enough of a difference to justify the cuts. If the city is serious about its Vision Zero goals, reducing pedestrian deaths to zero, and if it’s serious about its strategic mobility plan, to reduce the number of trips by single-occupancy vehicles in the city by half by 2040, she said the city needs to put its money where its mouth is.

“We’re not gonna get there if we don’t invest in the infrastructure that makes it safe and convenient and dignified, to walk, to ride bikes, to ride public transportation,” she said.

(WATCH: Sidewalk project closes stretch of North Davidson Street)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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