The failure of the Charlotte, N.C, city council to identify a funding source for a 20-year, $1.7 billion transit plan approved last week may well doom the proposal, a city councilman said Friday.
Council member Don Reid noted that during the same meeting in which it passed the transit plan last Tuesday, the city council squashed a resolution urging North Carolina's legislature to call a voter referendum on a local onecent sales tax to finance the initiative.
"What the city council's vote [on the sales tax referendum] tells you is that everybody has to get together now and find some way to address our transportation needs without raising taxes," Reid said in a telephone interview. "But that also means that you probably can't do a plan of the magnitude now under consideration."
Local officials say the tax increase, if approved, would initially generate about $70 million a year -- and all of the $1.7 billion for the program over 20 years.
The transit plan would improve transportation in a five-county area in and around Charlotte, including Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus, Union, and Iredell counties. The program calls for an outer loop around the city, new buses and bus routes, and preparations for a light rail system.
The council's action last Tuesday follows approval the previous week by the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners of the transit plan and the call for a sales tax referendum.
City and county planners have said participating local governments would probably need to issue a considerable amount of debt in conjunction with such a plan.
Reid, a Republican, noted that the county's decision to bring a referendum on the sales tax issue could be reversed given the change in the composition of the board of commissioners in the recent elections. Before Nov. 8, the board had seven members: four Democrats, all of whom supported the referendum, and three Republicans, one of whom opposed it.
With the recent elections, according to Reid, the board will have nine members: five Republicans who are likely opponents of a call for the referendum, and four Democrats, who probably will continue to favor it. The new board takes office this week.
Reid also said that he does not see support in the North Carolina legislature for putting a sales tax referendum before voters. Lawmakers convene early next month.
The councilman did not dispute the need for an expanded transportation system in the Charlotte area, particularly for a completed outer beltway around the city. But he said that raising the sales tax is not the solution.
Sales taxes are currently capped at 6% in North Carolina.
"I know we need to address transit here, but I think we can get a lot more out the sources we have," Reid said.
One funding source that needs to be pursued is the state itself, he said.
"I do not think Charlotte currently gets is fair share of funds from North Carolina, and that should change," he said.
Toll roads would provide another way Charlotte could provide for its transportation needs without raising taxes, he added.
Consideration of the transit plan has gained steam since August, when an influential group of North Carolina business and government leaders endorsed the proposal and the 1 -cent sales tax increase in the five counties surrounding Charlotte.
The group, Transportation/Transit Committee of 100, was set up last year by city council members and county commissioners.
Lynn Purnell, planning director of the committee, said in August that the proposed sales tax increase was a linchpin of the program.
Under the committee's proposal, sales tax revenues would be spent in the five counties in which they are levied, with individual counties determining which projects are important.
Purnell, who is also Charlotte's transportation planning manager, said that bonds would likely play a role to help leverage building of the projects, which could be launched by 1996.
Bonds could allow quicker completion of important local projects, such as an outer beltway around Charlotte, he said.
An important part of the transportation plan, he added, would be identifying the key roads connecting the five counties, with a view to establishing an interregional transportation network.