So let’s see: To get an agreement on a new capital plan, City Manager Ron Carlee hit upon the idea of raising property taxes to build pretty much everything on the city’s wish list besides the streetcar, which would be funded by future federal grants and money from the city’s reserve fund. This provided city council with a political fig leaf to claim they didn’t vote for using property tax money on the street car it could go along. It was all a rather brazen move by Carlee, as this is an election year and the streetcar fig leaf he provided is rather transparent. Money is fungible and that $63 million from the city’s reserve account now set aside for the streetcar could have been used to reduce the property tax increase associated with the rest of the capital plan.
So now comes word that the city didn’t get the $63 million grant it sought for half the cost of the next streetcar phase. Carlee claims he wasn’t expecting the city to win this year. But the defeat does put the issue squarely back into the public eye: What exactly is the plan going forward for this pork-barrel project if the city can’t get a federal grant in the next year or two? And how, exactly, does it not involve an explicit tax increase?
Most likely scenario going forward: The city agrees to throw a very large sum of money into redeveloping Eastland Mall into a film studio. That decision will, in turn, prompt the city to raise property taxes to build the streetcar line in its entirety sooner rather than later. The claim will be made that the city’s ‘investment’ in the Eastland project makes an even larger ‘investment’ in the streetcar necessary, that the streetcar is in fact an integral element of assuring the success of the film studio, and that once the city throws money at the film studio it has no choice but to also build the streetcar line. Political consideration will mean the city would have to commit to build the entire line as well.
The big loser in all this? Taxpayers, who will see their property taxes go up significantly only to see the money used on a questionable (at best) series of projects.
Bonus observation: Neither a streetcar nor a film studio can fix what ails East Charlotte. The fundamental problem is that the housing stock there is obsolescent.