On Monday, May 2, Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones reflected on the city government’s approach to COVID-19 as he prepared to present his proposed budget for the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) to Charlotte City Council.
“As we start to think back to January 2020, we had all these great ideas,” he said. “I’ll never forget as this council was sworn in in December 2019, we talked about not just bright shiny objects but what we can do for our entire community. I think we’ve really been able to strike a balance, even with COVID.”
Jones’ office has proposed a $3.24-billion budget for FY23, a more than $500 million increase from the previous $2.7 billion budget. Jones and his team hope to bring some major changes to the city’s economic landscape, he said. Their budget will not require property tax increases, furloughing or laying off employees, or drawing from operation reserves.
Among those changes include new opportunities for city workers, new infrastructure improvements and new fees.
Funding for city employees
During a March 29 public forum, solid waste management employee Rory Pegram opened up to Charlotte City Council about his experience with poverty. His low wages meant he had no choice but to live in a hotel, work a second job, and occasionally bring home food being handed out by homeless advocacy organizations.
“It is mentally, physically draining to me that I got to pick myself up to go to work Monday through Friday not knowing how I am going to make it,” said Pegram.
The Charlotte City Workers Union UE Local 150 called upon the Charlotte City Council to give city workers a 10% raise to cope with poverty and inflation. The union also asked for differential shift pay, or increased pay for late-night workers, as well as paid daily overtime and a universal sick-leave policy.
In the new budget, the City Manager’s Office proposes several wage increases for city workers, including an 8% for general hourly workers (4% in July and another 4% in January) and an additional 2.5% for second- and third-shift workers. This increase dwarves the typical 3% annual pay raise for hourly workers.
To break it down, full-time hourly employees will see an 8% wage increase. Salaried employees will see a 4% merit pool increase. Workers on a public safety pay plan (PSPP) will continue with the staggered 3% pay bump.
But Jones proposed drawing additional retention bonuses of 2% for salaried workers, PSPP workers and hourly workers. The bonuses, clocking in at a $1,000 minimum, will be funded by Charlotte’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
There will be additional pay bumps. Starting salaries for firefighters and police will increase by 10.5%, while jobs requiring a commercial driver’s license will see a pay bump of 2.5%, as will late-night workers.
These pay increases get the city on track for one goal in particular: Jones announced that by January 2023, he hopes to raise the minimum hourly wage for all full-time city workers to $20 an hour.
“When I think about what we’ve been going through the past few years,” he said, “I would say that the work of our city employees is nothing short of amazing.”
Jones also announced plans for other city worker benefits. The FY23 proposed budget provides funding for employees seeking to get their associate’s degrees from Central Piedmont Community College, and would set aside $2 million for down-payment assistance for employees struggling to buy a home in Charlotte.
The bond cycle
The proposed FY23 budget includes $226 million in bonds allocated to support several initiatives outlined in Monday night’s presentation, including affordable housing, pedestrian infrastructure and transportation.
In the proposed budget, $50 million of the allocated funds would support housing programs. This decision keeps with a trend in how the city funds affordable housing; in each bond cycle since 2018, the city has invested $50 million into the Housing Trust Fund.
During his presentation, Jones pointed out there was an additional $55 million available for housing through funding from ARPA and Corridors Housing throughout 2021 and 2022.
With Charlotteans placing a high priority on walkability and cycling safety, the 2022 bond plan earmarks a great deal of funding for pedestrian and cyclist-friendly developments. The City Manager’s Office proposed $50 million in bond totals for improving Charlotte’s sidewalks, a marked increase from the $15 million set aside in 2020. It also proposed $8 million in bond totals for cycling infrastructure, fully funding Charlotte’s Bike Plan.
The budget proposal recommends $17.1 million in funding for the Vision Zero strategy, a pedestrian safety initiative aiming to bring more streetlights, safer pedestrian crossings and advanced traffic calming strategies to Charlotte.
Finally, $10 million in bond totals is earmarked for congestion mitigation in South Charlotte, University City and Steele Creek. The FY23 budget dedicates additional funding to two major roads in Charlotte: $12.7 million to improve the intersection of Eastway and Shamrock drives and $7.3 million to improve Rea Road.
Parking and other fees
The City Manager left out one crucial part of the budget proposal during the meeting: a proposed increase in city parking fees. Currently, the city levies a $1 weekday fee on all parking spots in Uptown and South End. Starting in July, it plans to raise the fee to $1.50 and begin charging it on Saturdays as well.
This is the first time the city has raised the fee since 1997. Previously, the fee only applied to Uptown parking, but was expanded to South End in 2015. There are no current plans to expand this fee to other neighborhoods in Charlotte.
The City Manager’s Office claims the change was motivated by a variety of factors, including inflation and the need for increased parking turnover in Uptown and South End.
“You could park Friday night and stay in a spot until Monday morning,” said one city representative in a press conference on Monday.
The rep was also quick to note that if the $1 fee was adjusted according to over 20 years of inflation, it would be closer to $2. It is proposing the lower $1.50 fee “just to start.” The hope is that the increase will raise about $700,000 in funding, which the City Manager’s Office will direct to its street-resurfacing program.
The City Manager’s office proposed a couple other monthly fee increases during Monday’s presentation. If the budget passes, residents would see a 3.54% increase in water and a 3.8% in stormwater fees. For the average citizen, that would amount to about $2.49 more for water and 34 cents more for stormwater each month. Additionally, there would be a 92-cent increase in solid waste.
There would be no additional fees for CATS and no property tax increase.
Some other highlights from the proposed budget:
- Provides $1.3 million in direct support for Minority- and Woman-owned Small Business Enterprises, including $800,000 for a Capital Access Program and CBI Bonding Program.
- Proposes use of $30 million from ARPA for affordable-housing initiatives that support strategic partnerships, reduce displacement risk, and advance staying in place.
Environment, Engagement and Equity
- Invests $4.5 million on city building sustainability, $1.45 million for electric vehicle supply equipment locations, and adds 55 fully electric vehicles to the city’s fleet.
- Allocates $48.8 million to construct three fire stations over five years, one of which will be the city’s first all-electric fire station.
- Supports the ADA program with $209,918 for new positions along with an additional $3.25 million in program funding.
- Proposes use of $16 million from ARPA for community investments that support job and workforce development and, minority women-owned, and small businesses.
- Leverages federal funds and previous council allocations to provide $55 million in additional resources to support affordable housing and staying in place initiatives in addition to maintaining the $50 million investment in affordable housing.
- Makes modifications to the House Charlotte Homeownership Assistance Program to meet current market standards including the following:
- Increases maximum loan amount for households earning 80 percent AMI and below to $30,000.
- Increases the maximum purchase price to $300,000 for existing construction and $315,000 for new construction.
- Proposes $1 million for the SAFE Charlotte grant program supporting community organizations
- Launches Civilian Assistance: Respond, Engage, Support (CARES) Team for mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness calls for service.
- Awarded $330,000 from the state to support administration and evaluation of CARES Team (one of three North Carolina cities).
- Leverages $1 million in federal funds to expand the Alternatives to Violence program to two new sites.
- Updates internal operations at CMPD.
- Provides $118,000 for new Early Intervention System.
City council will hold a public hearing about the proposed budget on May 9, followed by budget adjustments on May 11 and straw votes on May 25. The budget will be considered by Council for adoption on May 31. FY23 begins July 1, 2022.