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Public Safety Theater


You have to absolutely appreciate the Machiavellian timing on the release of a task force report that finds the city’s public safety plan “financially unsustainable without large budget cuts or increased taxes,” coming as it does well after elected officials, city government and the uptown media and power structure successfully convinced voters that we could positively afford $204 million in new city bonds without a tax increase. No. Problem. Whatsoever.

Neanderthals warned at the time it was the classic bait-and-switch; that of course there wouldn’t be a tax hike to pay for the bonds. The tax hike would be required to pay for police officers and firefighters. And sure enough, with the bonds safely in the bag – 3..2..1: we all of sudden need a tax hike to pay for public safety.

The task force, chaired by Lee Institute President Cyndee Patterson, lays the brunt of the problem on the city council’s decision to dole out 2-percent pay increases for city employees this year, along with similar hikes for public safety employees – a decision the council’s Democrat majority approved and cost about $6 million to fund. The report also cites a loss of federal stimulus money, which is helping to pay for 125 new police officers, as a contributing cause to the crisis.

The pay hikes were a mistake, to be certain; not because some city employees didn’t deserve them, but because the city couldn’t afford them. Ditto the decision to accept federal largess to pay for cops the council knew the city couldn’t afford. But it borders on comical to imply, as the task force does, that these are the driving reasons the city faces a financial meltdown that threatens public safety. The punchline, from the report:

Overall, the Task Force is impressed after our review of the City’s budget. The City uses strong financial policies, conservative financial decision making and excellent budget structures to protect the City’s fiscal position.

Yet we need a tax hike or draconian cuts to other core services to pay cops and firefighters.

Where to start? The $12 million that the city council’s Democrat majority plunked down for the 7,920-feet-long Foxx Faux Streetcar Line to Nowhere seems old hat at this point. So how about the $2.1 million the city is shelling out this year for tree removal and tree replacement. Or maybe the $2.8 million tapped for the Arts & Science Council. Or the nearly $3 million flowing to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, a $19 million spy-chip recycling program, and $7 million for a turbo-charged 311 call center. Or maybe the $600,000-plus in so-called business incentive grants and $25,000 that was added to the mayor’s and council’s travel budget.

Small potatoes, one and all, compared to the nearly $24 million the city will hand out over the next five years – about $2 million this year alone – in tax increment financing gifts (i.e. property tax rebates) to connected developers and uptown power brokers. And, lest we forget, the $204 million in bonds that voters were hoodwinked into approving.

But the city needs a tax hike to pay for police and firefighters. Yes, of course, we do. This follows the template county officials have been pushing for months, that additional revenue is absolutely needed to pay for libraries, parks and schools. And now we have a property reval looming on the horizon to grease the skids.

The message is clear: you want basic services, citizen, while the gilded class continues to play in its uptown sandbox, you will foot the bill for a tax increase – one way or another.

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