Debating the $2.5B CMS bond package
Plus: CLT airport is raising parking rates; Ideas for relocating Duke Energy artwork; Answering reader question on bridge construction; Did City Council candidate 'run airports'?; Crowded CMS ballot
Need to subscribe — or upgrade your Ledger e-newsletter subscription? Details here.
Today’s Charlotte Ledger is sponsored by T.R. Lawing Realty:
The record $2.5B bond package for schools would modernize aging buildings; opponents worry about effect of taxes
The $2.5B in school bonds on November’s ballot would pay for 30 school projects in Mecklenburg County (map, right), including $201M to replace buildings at East Mecklenburg High (left) such as trailers on cinder blocks. Opponents say they worry about the effects of higher taxes.
by Tony Mecia
When it rains hard at Matthews Elementary, water pours into the school’s media center and hallways.
Beverly Woods Elementary in the SouthPark area has 12 classrooms with no windows. Berryhill Elementary, west of Charlotte’s airport, is on well water and a septic tank.
There are other schools in the county where wifi is spotty because it’s hard to retrofit 1950s buildings; where running tracks go behind the bleachers; and where decades-old classrooms are spread among an open campus that’s hard to secure in an era of school shootings.
Those are some of the prime examples of what Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say is driving the push for a record $2.5B school bond issue on the ballot next month — school buildings that they say are out-of-date, with substandard conditions that inhibit students’ ability to learn.
Opponents of the bonds don’t deny that the school system has needs. But they suggest that a better course of action is for voters to reject the bonds and for county commissioners to assess the need for school construction alongside other county priorities, like libraries and parks. That approach, they say, could help avoid some of the tax increases in the next few years needed to pay for the bonds — especially after this year’s property revaluation sent most homeowners’ tax bills soaring.
Voters will decide Nov. 7 (and in early voting, which runs through Saturday).
What it would do: If voters approve, the bonds would pay to start 30 school construction projects in the next five years, which were pared down from a list of 125 projects costing $5.3B. The projects connected with this year’s proposed bonds are spread throughout the county. Most are renovations or replacement buildings. (You can see the proposed list here.)
Officials say the amount is so large because of surging construction costs and because previous bonds couldn’t cover the growing needs.
“We're still playing catch-up,” CMS board chair Elyse Dashew said at a Charlotte Area Chamber of Commerce forum this month. “The need has just continued to outpace our ability to have bonds to meet the needs.”
What it would cost: The county’s chief financial officer projected in May that if the bonds pass, the county will need to raise property taxes by 1 cent per $100 of valuation in 2025, 2028 and 2029. On a $400,000 house, each 1 cent increase equals $40 more per year in property taxes. So by 2029, the owner of that house would be paying $120 a year more in taxes to pay for the school bonds, though a planned revaluation in 2027 could scramble that math.
The county will also need tax increases of 2 cents per $100 in valuation during that period to pay for plans for construction of libraries, parks and other buildings, county officials have said.
Three Democratic county commissioners voted against placing the $2.5B in bonds on the ballot. A group of Black clergy have been the most vocal opponents.
“We saw an unbelievable property reval that impacted low-wealth and minority communities, particularly in the crescent,” said the Rev. Ricky Woods, senior pastor of First Baptist Church-West, in an appearance this month on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins.” “We saw a tax increase because we did not go revenue neutral in the budget. Then we vote for these bonds — that will be three different times these property owners would have been hit with taxes.”
Here are some of the key points each side makes:
‘Yes’ on bonds
Substandard buildings. Many CMS schools are decades old and are becoming out of date. Replacing aging buildings would make them safer and would cut down on escalating costs to maintain older structures.
Getting more expensive. Bond backers say construction costs are only going to go up, so waiting will make projects more expensive.
Better for learning. Proponents say that studies show students perform better academically in modern buildings. It’s not the only factor, but having modern buildings is less of a burden on students and staff.
‘No’ on bonds
Tax increase. Opponents say committing to $2.5B in bonds would require additional tax increases that are difficult for low-income residents to absorb — especially after this year’s county property revaluation that is costing a typical $384,000 house an additional $507 a year.
A better way. Opponents of the bonds prefer an approach that places decisions on school construction funding into a regular discussion by county commissioners, instead of keeping it as a separate, longer-term commitment.
For a comprehensive look at the major items on this year’s ballot in Charlotte, check out The Ledger’s Election Hub, with a comprehensive look at city of Charlotte races, the school board election and school bonds.
It’s free to all (no paywall), with no ads, and is part of our effort to keep Charlotte informed. It contains links to videos, podcasts, candidate questionnaires and other information to help you cast an informed vote.
Today’s supporting sponsor is The 2023 Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. You can do this! (Yes, YOU!) There’s an event for every goal and pace at the 2023 Novant Health Charlotte Marathon: Full marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, or the Chick-fil-A 5k! It all happens Saturday, November 4. REGISTER NOW
Airport raises parking rates again
Charlotte’s airport is hiking its drive-up parking rates, a move that it says is needed to pay for expanded parking as the number of travelers grows.
Long-term lots will go to $12 a day, up from $10, or a 20% increase, while the daily decks will go to $20 a day, up from $12, or a 67% increase. There are also price hikes on hourly, valet, daily north and express decks (details here). The changes take effect Nov. 6.
The airport says fliers who reserve parking online will find the best rates. On Sunday, the airport’s parking reservations system was showing a rate of $10 a day in daily decks in the second week of November, or half the drive-up price of $20.
The discounts for reservations made closer to travel can be meager, though — as little as 1 cent. It also doesn’t seem to sell online reservations to its cheapest lots, the long-term lots, for trips of fewer than three days.
It is unclear if online prices will also rise, because they can fluctuate.
The airport last raised parking prices in July 2021. The new prices “are in line with other major hub airports,” CLT said in a news release.
Related Ledger articles:
Taking Stock, sponsored by Topsail Wealth Management
Topsail Wealth Management partners with you to provide personalized advice. Minimizing costs and the complexities of your wealth and investing plan.
How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
Where should Duke Energy’s ‘Quadrille’ artwork go next? Ledger readers weigh in
WILL THEY EVER EVER EVER GET IT BACK TOGETHER? Workers disassemble the “Quadrille” light-up sculpture uptown on Saturday morning from Duke Energy’s former building on South Church Street uptown. The company hopes to find the art piece a new home where it can shine again.
Last week, we told you that Duke Energy was looking for the next destination for the light-up “Quadrille” artwork that has graced the side of its former building on South Church Street since 1996, and asked readers for ideas on where it should go next.
Because the building has been sold and will be redeveloped, Duke Energy removed the 40-foot-by-40-foot light sculpture from the side of its former building on South Church Street on Friday and Saturday and transported it to one of its facilities in Maiden, 35 miles northwest of Charlotte, where it will await a new home.
Duke Energy officials say they’re still sorting through options and aren’t able to say where “Quadrille’s” next destination will be. In the meantime, here are some ideas readers sent to the Ledger about where they’d like to see the artwork appear:
“Have they reached out to the Charlotte Douglas Airport? It would be great there.” —Adrienne Bain
“Have you reached out to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport? Or one of the uptown hotels that seem to have large walls with nothing but their name at the top of the buildings? I, for one, hate to see this iconic sign taken down. Like so much of Charlotte, we lose a part of our soul every time a part of our history is removed, be it a historic building or, in this case, a much-loved sign.” —Kris Solow
“Probably not feasible, but my recommendation would be for it to be attached to the silos at the ADM milling site near the N.C. Music Factory, just inside I-277.” —Christopher Corcoran
“Please send this iconic art piece from the Duke Power Building in Charlotte to the Alleghany County Arts and Science Commission. Alleghany is the smallest of all 100 counties in N.C. and home to free music concerts in the spring and summer. Such a beautiful art piece would enhance the tourism experience in Sparta and Alleghany county.” —Maria Ochoa
“I would love to see this installed on the horribly unattractive abandoned building at the old PTL site in Fort Mill. It would be a much appreciated aesthetic upgrade to what the town currently has to look at.” —Laura Ciotoli
“How about the city take it and place it at Eastland Yards? Or, the county is supposedly going to raze the old shelter building at Park Road Park and build a new one. Maybe the architectural design could incorporate this? —Matthew Ridenhour
Duke Energy says it will keep us posted on “Quadrille’s” whereabouts. Stay tuned.
Related Ledger articles:
“The fate of Duke’s ‘Quadrille’ artwork” (May 11, 2022)
You Ask, We Answer: Is a turn lane in the works at the site of bridge construction on Ballantyne Commons Parkway?
Welcome to the latest installment of “You Ask, We Answer,” The Ledger’s attempt to help satisfy your burning development questions behind bulldozed blocks🏗️ or mystery construction plans.
Have a question you’d like us to look into? Email us.
Today’s question comes from Ledger member Lawrence A., who writes in about an area of Ballantyne Commons Parkway between Providence and Rea roads:
I have a question I wanted to see if you might have an answer to: A new bridge was built on Ballantyne Commons Parkway just east of Tom Short Road — it crosses I-485. It’s been operational since at least last spring.
Traffic gets backed up now for the westbound traffic as cars await behind other cars turning southbound onto Tom Short. Is this bridge/road area complete and in its final state, or does the city plan on adding a second lane? It gets to be a real traffic nightmare during rush hour traffic.
Thanks, Lawrence! We took the question to Jen Thompson of N.C. Department of Transportation, who had some good news about the future of your left turns. (You just have to wait a while longer.) She told us:
Under the current I-485 express lanes project, a left turn lane onto Tom Short Road is planned. The other half of the bridge needs to be completed and the roadway section built out, so we have room to add it. At this time, that could happen in late spring 2024.
🇺🇸 Election notes: Has City Council candidate Stephanie Hand actually ‘run airports’?; 14 CMS candidates don’t all fit on a single screen on county voting machines
Now through Election Day, The Ledger will round up tidbits of election news to help you make an informed choice. For unbiased election information that’s free to all, with no ads, check out The Ledger’s Election Hub, with candidate questionnaires, videos and links to other reputable sources on city elections, school board elections and the school bond vote.
◼️ Fact-checking claim of ‘running airports’: Democratic City Council candidate Stephanie Hand, who is running in south Charlotte to unseat Republican Tariq Bokhari, has been touting her executive experience in the airline industry in public forums and in materials for voters.
A handout given to voters at the polls says she’s “one of the youngest female General Managers in the U.S. airport industry.”
In a discussion on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins” this month, she referred to her airport leadership four times. In a question about transit, she said: “I used to ride the train downtown. I ran airports.” In a question about her background, she said: “When I was running airports, I was already engaging in the philanthropic community, the faith community and the business community.” In response to whether she would vote with fellow Democrats, she said: “I’m an individual. I’ve run airports. I understand leadership.”
Describing her background, she said:
From my executive experience, in the airport industry, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, it was the executive operations manager there. And anything that a customer, a flier, that goes through the airport, those are the things that I manage — everything a customer saw in the airport, but not only at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, but from Florida, all the way to New York City, the airports there.
But is that an accurate description of her experience, which sounds as though it is in airport administration? Did she work for one of the three directors of the Charlotte airport since the 1980s — Jerry Orr, Brent Cagle or Haley Gentry?
In response to a question from The Ledger, a Charlotte airport spokesperson said Hand has never been an airport employee.
Her LinkedIn page says that from 1991-2001, she worked for a division of Marriott International called Host Marriott, which was the predecessor of airport concessions vendor HMSHost. It says she was “Host Marriott General Manager of the Little Rock National Airport, Operations Manager of Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Regional Starbucks Brand Champion for airports.” It says she was responsible for 500 employees in Charlotte and for 45 food and retail brands and successfully negotiated a 13-year lease extension with the city “on behalf of Host Marriott with the city of Charlotte.”
HMSHost didn’t reply to our inquiries. Neither did Hand, whom we contacted by email and phone Friday and Saturday to elaborate on her airport/hospitality industry experience. If we hear anything more, we’ll let you know.
◼️ Crowded ballot: So many people are running for a spot on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education — 14 of them — that their names don’t all fit on a single screen on the county’s voting machines.
Is that placing two candidates who are last alphabetically — Monty Witherspoon and Clara Witherspoon — at a disadvantage? The other 12 candidates are on the first page, but to reach the Witherspoons (who are not related), voters have to click “more” at the bottom of the screen.
“Even with the folks I’ve talked to who know me, it has presented a challenge for them,” Monty Witherspoon told The Ledger. “You get stuck on the first page. It takes them a minute to realize you have to go to the next page.”
Elections director Michael Dickerson says the placement is unavoidable, because only 12 candidates can fit on a page. Voters still have to click “more” to see the final two candidates before being asked to cast their votes. He speculates that maybe that gives the Witherspoon candidates an advantage, because they have a page to themselves.
Dickerson says there’s a similar situation with Huntersville’s board of commissioners, which has 17 candidates.
🎧 New election podcasts: The Ledger has released two mini-podcasts of less than 10 minutes each — one on the city elections and one on the school board race. The Charlotte Ledger Podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
MONDAY & TUESDAY: Spooky at CoolRenewal Spa, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Cool Renewal Spa, 138 Village View Dr. #105, Mooresville. Come get SPOOKY AT THE SPA with CoolRenewal Spa. No Tricks, just TREATMENTS. Walk in appointments from 9am-4pm. SAME DAYS SPECIALS AND TREATMENTS AVAILABLE. Monster package deals with giveaways from Obagi skincare and CoolSculpting.
NOV. 9-19: Thanksgiving: 2016, 8 p.m., Charlotte’s Off Broadway Theater, The VAPA Center. A comedy about the dangers of turkey and politics! Chaos, family secrets and domestic dysfunction explode when the son of a liberal family invites his conservative girlfriend to Thanksgiving after the 2016 presidential election. Nov. 9, 10, 11, 12 & Nov. 16, 17, 18, 19: Thurs. 7:30 pm, Fri./Sat. 8 pm, & Sun. 3 pm. $25.
Financial challenges at Carolina Place: Carolina Place mall’s owner, Brookfield Properties, is in default on a $149M loan tied to the mall after missing the mortgage payoff deadline. A recent appraisal showed the value of the Pineville mall plunged to $135M, down from $263M in 2013. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)
NoDa break-ins: Business owners in NoDa say robbers smashed windows at a strip mall off East 36th Street on Friday night. The manager of restaurant The Artisan’s Palate said the break-in was the fourth this year, which is “frustrating” and “disheartening.” (WSOC)
Wawa coming: Convenience store chain Wawa says it plans to open 80 North Carolina locations in the next 10 years. (WSOC)
South End restaurant sued: Redline Design Group has filed a lawsuit against restaurant Uptown Yolk and its parent company, Bayhaven Restaurant Group, alleging that the company owes $33,000 for architecture work. Bayhaven, which also owns Camp North End restaurant Leah & Louise, didn’t reply to a request for comment, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
Players suspended after loss:UNC Charlotte football coach Biff Poggi said he is suspending an unspecified number of players following the team’s Saturday loss to Florida Atlantic. He said in a statement: “I am extremely disappointed with our comportment as a football team against FAU.” (ESPN)
Need to sign up for this e-newsletter? We offer a free version, as well as paid memberships for full access to all 4 of our local newsletters:
➡️ Learn more about The Charlotte Ledger
The Charlotte Ledger is a locally owned media company that delivers smart and essential news through e-newsletters and on a website. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.
🎁 Need a gift? Order The Charlotte Ledger Crossword Puzzle Collection, with 35 original puzzles with Charlotte themes and clues. Just $19.99+tax.
Like what we are doing? Feel free to forward this along and to tell a friend.
Sponsorship information/customer service: email email@example.com.