Charlotte hikes water, sewer rates

Budget holds property taxes steady
GREG LACOUR posted on on June 12, 2007

The Charlotte City Council on Monday adopted a $1.6 billion budget for 2007-08 that keeps the city property tax rate stable but hikes water and sewer rates to accommodate growth.

A pair of unresolved issues, though, hangs over the budget -- tax matters that could force the city to come up with tens of millions it hasn't budgeted.

Assuming the adopted budget holds, residents will see a 6.25-percent increase in their monthly water and sewer bills and a 7 percent increase in stormwater rates. The city has adopted similar increases in recent years. The 2007-08 fiscal year begins July 1.

After a 9 percent property tax rate increase last year -- the first tax increase in a decade -- the council kept the rate the same this time, at 45.86 cents per $100. The vote was 9-2, with Democrat Warren Turner and Republican Don Lochman, who chairs the council's budget committee, casting the no votes.

City property owners still will see higher property tax bills, though, since Mecklenburg County commissioners adopted a budget that increased property taxes by 2.4 percent. City property owners pay both city and county taxes.

But the fate of some sales-tax revenues that the city is counting on could change the budget later this year.

This fall, if voters repeal a countywide half-cent sales tax that funds transit projects, the city will have to find an extra $73 million in the first year without it, city officials say. That would be the 2008-09 fiscal year, but the city would have to begin adjusting for the coming loss of revenue a year early.

If state legislators shift a half-cent in sales tax to fund Medicaid expenses, the city would lose $6.7 million in revenue in 2007-08 and nearly $10 million in 2008-09. For now, city officials are assuming the tax revenue will remain.

The city will spend about $24 million more in 2007-08 than in this fiscal year, and new city jobs -- plus raises for those in old ones -- account for much of the increase.

The budget adds 11 jobs in Solid Waste Services, two in the economic development office and two in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department. It also directs about $18 million more in pay and benefits, $1.4 million more for fuel and $1 million more for vehicle maintenance.

Most city employees will receive a 3.7-percent raise. The amount has prompted some objection from maintenance, sanitation and solid waste workers, among the lowest-paid city employees. In a protest at the Government Center and calls to council members, they cited a 2006 study showing they're paid an average of 12 percent less than their counterparts in private industry and other local governments.

Greg Lacour: 704-358-5067

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