Charlotte City Council discusses potential sales and property tax increases

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte’s budget preparation is kicking off with the Charlotte City Council’s annual budget retreat. It’s early in the budget process right now but as the city continues to grow, one thing potentially on the table this year is a property tax increase. No final decisions will be made for several months.

As inflation continues and experts speculate a possible recession, the Charlotte City Council is trying to ensure the city remains financially strong.

“The city is growing. It is growing in leaps and bounds and the goal is how do we pay for the growth?” Councilman Malcolm Graham said Monday.

The city’s finance team told the Charlotte City Council their current revenue projections only cover existing services. That doesn’t factor in wage increases or new projects needed due to growth. Property tax is Charlotte’s main revenue source. It doesn’t grow with inflation and hasn’t been raised in the past 4 budgets.

Councilman Ed Driggs worries this could be the year the city tries to do it.

“I am going to be pretty aggressive about making them justify any increase,” Driggs said. “We need to be very accountable and very transparent.”

City staffers say growth will require them to spend more money on things, such as new Charlotte Fire stations. It’s too soon to say how city leaders will pay for their priorities.

“Let’s take a look at where we are, where we want to go, and look at the resources on the table and make a decision,” Graham said.

“You can’t every time you need new revenue, raise the taxes because it makes your city eventually, or wherever you are taxing, unlivable for certain people,” Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston said.

This is also a revaluation year. Mecklenburg County will be sending out new home values in March and the tax rate will depend on whether leaders lower it to revenue neutral.

“I want the public to be aware and to be watching,” Driggs said.

As the Charlotte City Council weighs a potential property tax increase, city leaders continue to hope the General Assembly will grant them the authority to seek a sales tax increase through a referendum. Proceeds from the sales tax increase would go to transportation and transit projects.

City Manager Marcus Jones gauged the Charlotte City Council’s willingness to continue to seek a sales tax increase. He is also pitching a transportation-first package instead of prioritizing rail. That would mean the first projects completed from the funding would deal with road and bus improvements instead of light rail and streetcar.

The City Council needs a lot to happen. The General Assembly must give the council the approval to put this measure on the ballot and then voters must approve it. All of that will take convincing.

Winston is on board with a transportation-first approach.

“We have to get things done. We have to get dirt moving and we have to get improvements,” he said.

The city wants to act quickly to take advantage of the infrastructure law. Charlotte is already behind its peer cities, including Austin and Atlanta, which already approved funding sources for their projects.

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