Declaration of Intent
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. – Thomas Jefferson
The John Locke Foundation rated Charlotte the highest taxed city in North Carolina ten years in a row. Charlotte also has the highest debt of any city in North Carolina according to Dale Folwell, Speaker Pro Tempore of the NC House of Representatives. Eighty percent of Charlotte’s debt was never approved by the taxpayers. Spending is out of control in Charlotte and shows no signs of letting up. Annexation has greatly increased Charlotte’s tax base, but spending is disproportionally focused on its urban core.
Direct Money Downtown
Charlotte Center City Partners
Charlotte Center City Partners purpose is developing and promoting downtown Charlotte. The compensation of its CEO and staff is well above national averages, and it is overseen by a board that profits from the activities of the CCCP. This structure is ripe for promoting self-serving interests. Although the CCCP does not directly levy taxes beyond five downtown wards, its activities cost all taxpayers of Charlotte and Mecklenburg through the implementation and support of initiatives such as the Charlotte Vision 2020 and 2025 Transit plans.
Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority is charged with managing five facilities that serve the urban core of Charlotte. The CRVA’s prior CEO’s was involved in several scandals, including inflating attendance estimates for the NASCAR Hall of Fames to justify building it and giving a $100,000 bonus to an employee without the approval of his board. The prior CEO was demoted and keeps a high position on the staff, and the new CEO was given a base salary raise. The CRVA loses money yet has a $50 million budget paid from hotel and motel occupancy taxes,plus a 1% prepared food and beverage tax levied on all establishments in Mecklenburg County. The CRVA has a staff of forty-five and is overseen by a board of fifty-three, many of which benefit from the activities of the CRVA.
A History of Poor Spending
Decisions to Develop Downtown
No issue illustrates Charlotte’s commitment to develop downtown at any cost better than light rail. The current Blue Line and all future proposed tracks will carry passengers to and from one destination, downtown, for an extraordinarily highly subsidized cost of over twenty dollars per rider. A half cent transit tax was supposed to pay for light rail, but that is an impossible promise based on cost overruns and reduced tax receipts. The city of Charlotte lobbied hard to divert transportation money from needed highways to get approval to spend $1+ billion to extend the light rail north, a route that is currently serviced very well by existing transit. With current fares of the existing rail line covering only 17% of its operating costs, all Charlotte taxpayers will be forced to pay more of their taxes to subsidize the rides of the few that will take the extended rail downtown.
In 2005 Charlotte opened a new 19,000 seat arena downtown with no parking to replace a 24,000 seat arena on the west side with 8,000 parking spaces. The cost of the new arena was $265 million. The voters voted no to building the new arena, but the city built it anyway. The old arena was imploded in 2007 leaving Charlotte with an eyesore on the west side, 5,000 fewer arena seats, 8,000 fewer parking spaces and deeper in debt. The Charlotte Center City Partners got one more venue to tout the success of downtown.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
When the bidding for the NASCAR Hall of Fame originally started, Charlotte projected annual attendance of 400,000. That figure soared overnight to 800,000 as Charlotte entered a bidding frenzy with other cities. A scandal erupted when it was learned the CRVA was keeping two sets of books to deceive taxpayers. The final cost was $195 million after cost overruns of over $32 million. The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s first year attendance was 274,000, well below its non-inflated projection of 400,000 but high enough to place it second in attendance only to the Baseball Hall of Fame. How did the CRVA come up with the 800,000 attendance projection? Poor attendance continues to result in losses all Charlotte taxpayers must cover, yet there is no recession at the CRVA with its bloated staffing.
Downtown Baseball Stadium
Charlotte proposes to build a downtown baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights, a AAA minor league team. Mecklenburg County has tentatively approved spending $8 million and the city is considering spending $6-11 million. The Knights have been struggling to come up with their share of the $55 million cost of the stadium, quite possibly because the Knights have consistently ranked last in attendance despite having a respectable 69-74 record in 2011. Nobody has explained how moving into center city will improve either the Knights’ record or attendance.
Charlotte accepted $25 million in stimulus to build the $37 million, 1.5 milesof the first phase of a downtown streetcar system. Charlotte has no plan how it will pay for the remaining 8.5 miles of track, which could cost as much as $500 million, or how it will pay for its operating costs. There are also plans to build a $200-$300 million extension along Monroe road. This is yet another big ticket rail project that has questionable benefit and will only serve the urban center city.
Charlotte paid a total of $27 million in city, county and state funds and tax credits to coax Chiquita Brands to move their headquarters to Charlotte. That amounts to approximately $135,000 per new job for Charlotte area residents. Cincinnati was only willing to pay Chiquita $6 million to remain in Cincinnati. Chiquita will move into the empty NASCAR Hall of Fame office tower, and the CEO of the Charlotte Center City Partners commented what a boon that move will be to center city. In the meantime well established businesses in South Charlotte with more employees contemplate moving a few miles to South Carolina to avoid Charlotte’s high taxes.
Johnson C. Smith Housing
The city supports the building of a $26 million housing/parking complex near Johnson C. Smith University and hopes it will be finished in time to be a show piece for the DNC. This complex will be built in a financially depressed area. So far the city has committed $3.18 million in parking space leases. The Arts and Science Council, a city funded nonprofit, has committed $300,000 for a 3D light display under I-77 that will feature the colors of Johnson C. Smith University.
Spending and Taxing Policies
Unbalanced Distribution of School Funds
Political unfairness is also reflected in the policies of Mecklenburg County. Urban schools receive an average of $12,000 per student for education from the county budgeted school system while the southern 6th District of Mecklenburg receives approximately $3,500 per student. North Carolina allocates $5,142 per student for education not counting county monies. Where is the extra money for the 6th District going? As long as South Mecklenburg is governed by a county that has demonstrated a preference for directing money to the center city, the citizens of South Mecklenburg will have little leverage negotiating with the County of Mecklenburg for a fairer distribution of resources. The solution
lies in creating separate school districts across Mecklenburg County.
Unbalanced Outside Funding of Schools
The schools along the west side corridor of Charlotte will receive an additional $55 million from nonprofit organizations for a program called Lift. A few years ago when South Mecklenburg parents proposed raising money to pay for more teachers the school board said no because poorer districts weren’t able to do that. The question again needs to be asked where is the money the state allocated for South Mecklenburg going, much less the taxes paid by South Mecklenburg residents for schools?
Unfair Property Assessments
In the recent round of property revaluations approximately 60% of all Mecklenburg households got a property tax increase. In the south Mecklenburg Districts 5 and 6, 89% and 78% of households respectively got tax increases. In
the heavily urban Districts 2 and 3 only 48% and 34% of households got tax increases. Most disturbing is a practice
called stigma adjustment, in which areas of the county were given special reductions on their valuations ranging from 20-35% prior to the start of the revaluation process. These areas happen to be close to the city core.
Ineffective Emergency Response
Concerns over safety came to a head regarding the response of a 911 operator and police in the murder of a young female night manager in South Charlotte. Many questions remain. When police were directed to the wrong address, why didn’t they ask the 911 dispatcher to call the caller back for clarification? When the victim’s body was discovered some six hours after the 911 call, why didn’t the police connect the body to the 911 call? The citizens of South Charlotte rightly ask if such basic failures are indicative of where they fall on the priority scale of the people they trust with their lives.
South Charlotte’s infrastructure is neglected and failing, yet city and county discussions that center on building streetcars or downtown baseball fields with money we don’t have still persists. Enough money was taken out of Charlotte’s storm water projects to put the system ten years behind. This money was then used to build the first light rail line. Every time there is a heavy rain the evening news is filled with stories of residents with flood problems. Widening the southern I-485 beltway has been needed for years. Now it is proposed toll lanes be added to pay for widening 485 while plans move forward for an unneeded light rail along a northern corridor going downtown which will require heavy subsidies and will carry far fewer commuters.
The residents in South Charlotte should be represented by local governments that are responsive and accountable to their needs. Reverse annexation currently happens in North Carolina without widespread public attention. Separation from Charlotte can be done! It’s a matter of getting the General Assembly to take action. Many actions are ongoing. The final result could take several forms.
An unincorporated community in South Mecklenburg
A new incorporated town in South Mecklenburg
Separated areas merged with towns already in South Mecklenburg Such as Pineville, Matthews or Mint Hill
· A mixture of the above
Concerned citizens and the current General Assembly areaware of the hardships North Carolina’s past annexation practices have inflicted on its citizens. Last summer legislation was passed guaranteeing greater property rights protection. The time is ripe to undo past injustices.
The residents of South Charlotte are fed-up with being treated like cash cows to support wasteful center city and county interests while being short changed when it comes to our needs. We further are tired of a city and county that has demonstrated its contempt for and neglect of its North Carolina citizens in South Mecklenburg. Therefore, we request the General Assembly, out of common decency, to free the citizens of South Mecklenburg so they can take control of their own destiny and the fruits of their labor. A supporting petition when completed will accompany this Declaration
This post was submitted by Jay Privette.
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