Task force to hash out funding options for expanding light rail to airport, Matthews, Ballantyne

CHARLOTTE — It’s full steam ahead for planning Charlotte’s future transportation system.

The pandemic hasn’t derailed the city’s goals of extending the light rail to the airport, Matthews and Ballantyne, and a city committee -- the Charlotte Moves task force -- is trying to figure out how to pay for it. The are meeting Wednesday to layout their plans.

“The council is going to have to realize this is a transformational moment for them,” former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the task force’s chair, said.

It’s not just light rail. The committee is exploring a Transformational Mobility Network, which includes road and bike path improvements. It won’t be cheap. There’s an estimated $8 to $12 billion price tag with the local share anywhere from $4 to $6 billion.

“Our peer cities are making investments to improve mobility in their areas,” Gantt said. “It is almost a no-brainer to say we have to do the same if we want to keep up.”

Other cities are making moves. Last week, voters in Austin, Texas approved a $7.1 billion transit package to raise property taxes by 4% in exchange for a light and commuter rail, a downtown tunnel for trains and expanded bus services.

The task force will discuss a funding recommendation at their meeting Wednesday and present it to the Charlotte City Council in December.

A sales tax increase is a possibility, officials said. The sales tax rate is 7.25%. A referendum is needed, and going over 7.5% would require approval from the General Assembly. A .25% increase would generate $55 million a year. A .50% increase would generate $110 million a year, and a 1% increase would generate $220 million a year, according to the city’s chief financial officer.

The city could also raise the property tax. The current rate is 0.3481%. A one-cent increase would generate $14 million annually. A two-cent increase would generate $28 million annually. A three-cent increase would generate $42 million annually, and a four-cent increase would generate $57 million annually, according to the city’s chief financial officer.

It is also possible the city could coordinate the property tax increase to coincide with a county property tax increase, which would generate more money. Austin’s 4% property tax increase adds up to 8.75 cents. While the city can change the property tax rate on its own, borrowing off property taxes will require a referendum.

The city could also raise the vehicle registration fee. It’s currently $30 a year. A $10 fee increase would generate $8.8 million annually.

The city’s chief financial officer told the task force there isn’t any reasonable way to generate the full $8 to $12 billion without state and federal help.

Gantt said it will be up to leaders to sell the tax increase’s benefits to residents.

“How does the average citizen receive this information of what it is going to cost me for the next 30 years?” he said.