Charlotte leaders, mayor get big pay raise, overhaul arts funding in new budget

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The City Council on Monday night adopted a $2.7 billion budget for the 2022 fiscal year that upends a decades-long model for funding arts and cultural groups in Charlotte.

The city will no longer rely on the Arts & Science Council, an umbrella arts funding organization, and instead will allocate millions of dollars to the Foundation for the Carolinas to dole out in grants.

And council members, who approved the budget in a 10-1 vote with minor adjustments to the city manager’s proposal, also gave themselves a 50% raise. Mayor Vi Lyles’ salary will increase by 41.5% — and her total compensation, including benefits, will rise by 30.4%, the Observer first reported last month.

Council member Tariq Bokhari cast the only dissenting vote against the budget due to the pay hikes.

“This is a form of sacrifice that we need to be able to come here and serve for a short period of time to give back to our community,” Bokhari said.

There couldn’t be a worse time for us to consider giving ourselves a raise right now,” he said.

The budget, which grew by almost 6% over the current year, keeps the city property tax rate stable at 38.41 cents per $100 of assessed value, or about $830 for the average Charlotte household.

The city is still working with Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders on a framework for using a joint $682 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.

Arts funding

In recent weeks, amid budget deliberations, Council members have turned much of their attention to revising the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, a visionary land-use document that they will vote on adopting next Monday.

But in the interim, many city leaders have also defended their decision to no longer use the Arts & Science Council as a pass-through funding agency. Instead, the city intends to allocate $6 million annually, over each of the next three years, to arts and culture groups, with funds to be administered by the Foundation for the Carolinas.

The foundation, tasked with securing an $18 million match from the private sector, announced Thursday that it has exceeded that goal by $2 million so far.

It’s a temporary solution, as city leaders will soon appoint an arts commissioner and advisory board to develop a long-term strategy to stabilize Charlotte’s arts ecosystem, spanning individual artists to legacy institutions. A sharp drop in workplace giving, plus a failed sales tax referendum in 2019 that would have boosted ASC funding, made the old budget model unsustainable, city leaders said.

Mecklenburg County commissioners, by contrast, pledged to continue backing the ASC, particularly as the organization sharpens its focus on diversity and equity.

Here are some other highlights of Charlotte’s new budget, which takes effect July 1.

New fees

Households can expect their Charlotte Water fee to increase by $2.33 per month.

The Storm Water Services fee will increase by 29 cents per month for households.

There’s no fare increase for the Charlotte Area Transit System.

Police reform

Within the city’s $750.7 million general fund — used to manage day-to-day operations using property and sales tax revenue — 40.1% is earmarked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, according to the budget book.

The CMPD budget allocation drew little to no controversy this year. Last June, in the wake of George Floyd protests and a controversial kettling protest incident in uptown Charlotte, Council members banned police officials from buying certain chemical agents during the budget adoption vote.

This year’s budget continues “Safe Charlotte” initiatives to overhaul the role of sworn police officers, handle violent crime from a public health perspective and bolster trust and transparency throughout the community. Those investments include:

$1 million to local nonprofits to curb violent crime.

$739,000 to expand CMPD’s Community Policing Crisis Response Team, which handles mental health emergencies.

$1.2 million for a pilot program that reroutes lower-risk 911 calls, including for mental health and homelessness issues, away from police to mental health clinicians or non-law enforcement professionals.

Pay raises

The mayor’s salary will climb to $39,646 and her total compensation to $59,868.

Council members will now make $32,638, with their total compensation at $52,444.

The new figures are based on recommendations from a citizens advisory committee, which found Lyles was the third lowest paid mayor across 20 peer cities and that Council members were paid less than their counterparts in 13 peer cities. The goal was to boost their pay to align with county commissioners, the committee said.

City employees will get a 3% merit raise.

The minimum salary for full-time city employees will increase from $33,280 to $38,090, which impacts 143 people.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles will get a big pay raise within the fiscal year 2022 budget.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles will get a big pay raise within the fiscal year 2022 budget.

‘Corridors of opportunity’

$14 million to support housing and neighborhood “stabilization,” as well as economic development, along six corridors: Beatties Ford Road, West Boulevard, Interstate 85/Sugar Creek Road, Central Avenue/Albemarle Road, North Tryon/North Graham streets, Freedom Drive/Wilkinson Boulevard.

Within that funding, the city plans to develop a “pilot geographies program” to tackle neighborhood displacement concerns through a mix of new and existing housing initiatives.

Proposed bonds for 2022

$50 million for affordable housing (with another $50 million planned for 2024).

$50 million for sidewalks (compared to $15 million in 2020).

$8 million to expand the city’s bicycle infrastructure (compared to $4 million in 2020).

$4 million for transportation safety (compared to $2 million in 2020).

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