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Letter to the Editor: What’s the Word on Charlotte Capital Bonds?

Jennifer Roberts is a former Charlotte Mayor and Mecklenburg County Commission Chair.

More than 600,000 absentee ballots were mailed out to N.C. voters on Friday. It is great to hear that the word has gotten out about the importance of voting in the 2020 elections, and for those who do not want to stand in line with a mask on and be near others inside a polling station, absentee ballots are the way to go. It is important to know that absentee ballots in N.C. still require a witness signature, as many absentee ballots have been thrown out in the past when that is missing. The information form states clearly that “You must vote your ballot in the presence of a witness.” The board of elections does not automatically mail you a ballot, however; you have to officially request it — but there is still time to do so, and it is easy to do online.

There is a lot more than the presidential election on the ballot, and so-called “down ballot” races impact many aspects of life in N.C. State offices from the governor on down to local offices like county commissioners are on your ballot, and you need to weigh in on all of these. 

For Charlotte voters, there is one more thing on the ballot: capital city bonds. Until I received my ballot, I had not heard anything about these bonds. As a former mayor and county commission chair, I have seen a lot of bond campaigns. Usually our business community is supportive enough to help with a bond information campaign in these situations, but I have not seen signs of any campaign this year.  I called several city council members who did not remember any specifics about these bonds. I heard from some sources that there was a “sense” that the bonds were going to pass anyway, so the city did not need to do much advertising.

I beg to differ. There is no guarantee that Charlotte voters will support capital bonds without more information. The voters need facts.  There is a total of $196.7 million on the ballot, including housing, streets, and neighborhoods. How will this additional debt service affect the city budget in the coming year, when we are already having to cut back on basic services as sales tax and income tax revenues fall? Why is the city not joining with many cities who are delaying capital projects in order to maintain basic services?

According to a July 9 article on cities and COVID-19 by the National League of Cities, “…65% of cities indicate that they are delaying or completely canceling capital outlays and infrastructure projects, and 61% say they are delaying or canceling equipment purchases…”

The only thing I found on the web with respect to Charlotte’s bonds was a “Vote Yes For Bonds” site that offers no detail whatsoever on the impact on the operating budget, or a list of projects to be supported. The City of Charlotte’s website has information on the 2018 bonds, and lists of those projects (some of which have been recently completed), but it ends there.

I find this lack of transparency unhelpful. Bond issuances of almost $200 million during a pandemic and recession should be big news. Many voters will fill out absentee ballots before they get any detail on these bonds.  

I am one of those voters looking for that information, and I hope it is forthcoming. It needs to be put out in multiple media outlets, before all voters fill out their absentee ballots. Votes for bonds should never be taken for granted.

Why is Charlotte different from other cities who are delaying capital projects in response to the operating needs of the COVID crisis?  What are the urgent projects on the list, that need funding now in spite of the current recession and its health and human service needs? And have any capital projects changed in nature or in priority in response to current conditions, including the growing threat from climate change and its impacts (such as bike lanes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)?

This voter looks forward to hearing more on Charlotte capital bonds — and soon, so I can safely mail my ballot in, in time to be counted.

[Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for our 2020 Voter’s Guide in early October, in plenty of time to get your ballots mailed in.]

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