News: CJ Exclusives

Arts Group Wants $102 Million from Taxes

Funds would help build Charlotte projects; also, Currituck incorporation and impact fees in Durham

A Charlotte arts group has proposed a $190 million vision for the city’s cultural future. If, how, and to what degree the proposal will be accepted and built remains to be seen.

Under the proposal by the Arts & Science Council, Charlotte would spend $88 million over five years. Mecklenburg County would contribute $14 million. The remaining $88 million would be raised from private sources. The Arts & Science Council acts as an umbrella agency for Mecklenburg County cultural organizations.

Specific projects to be funded include renovating the Discovery Place science museum, at $44 million; building a new modern art museum, $51.5 million; constructing a 1,200-seat theater, $33.5 million; and helping to move the Mint Museum of Art to uptown Charlotte, $24 million.

The proposal is a pared version of a $236 million plan the ASC floated in November. The ASC is asking the city to commit to its new plan by June 14, when it adopts its budget for the new fiscal year. The arts organization refuses to prioritize the individual projects it is recommending.

“It’s a game-changer for the cultural community,” ASC chair Tim Arnoult told The Charlotte Observer. “One of our beliefs is (that) in order to attract the level of support necessary to get the cultural facilities plan launched, there has to be a huge amount of excitement.”

Ordinarily, most cultural facilities are built with hotel-motel tax revenues that must, by law, be used for tourism-related projects. Charlotte’s entire future stream of hotel-motel tax receipts, however, is pledged toward building a new arena for the NBA expansion Charlotte Bobcats. As a result, any city money for the arts facilities must come from other funding sources.

Charlotte has $213 million budgeted for capital projects over the next five years. Only $17 million is earmarked for cultural projects.
The city faces a projected $6 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and is considering postponing road work and sidewalk work to close the gap.

The ASC’s refusal to prioritize projects has irked at least one city leader.

“It is irritating,” council member John Tabor said to the Observer. “I understand, they serve a bunch of masters, and the minute they do (prioritize), they will piss off more people than they please. But that’s what we do. Why do we have to be the only ones that piss people off?”
Currituck incorporation?

All but three of North Carolina’s 100 counties contain at least one incorporated municipality. That could change though, as Currituck County officials are examining the possibility of incorporating the entire county as a single town.

“It’s not an official issue, the board has not discussed it,” Currituck Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul O’Neal told the Daily Advance of Elizabeth City. “However, it is interesting, it’s an interesting idea.”

The possible advantages cited by those suggesting the idea center on maintaining a single, countywide, land-use policy and preventing a duplication of services.

Incorporating the county as a whole would prevent communities within the county from becoming separate towns with their own zoning regulations, which might differ from the county’s.

Likewise, any new municipalities that might be created could feel compelled to provide their own police or water and sewer services, effectively duplicating services provided by the county.

“We’d probably be better off with just the county (incorporating as a whole),” Commissioner Gene Gregory told the newspaper. “The people would be better off. We make a special effort to take care of this whole county… We just do not disregard any part of our county.”

The county attorney is looking into the legality of such a countywide incorporation.

Camden and Hyde are the other counties that have no towns in them. Both have populations of less than 8,000. Currituck’s population was just under 20,000 as of July 1, 2003.

Durham, Duke debate impact fees

Duke University and the city of Durham are arguing of how much in impact fees the school should pay on its new buildings, the News & Observer of Raleigh reports. The main point of contention is exactly how much the city is overcharging the university as even a city-hired consultant agrees the city is asking for too much.

Durham, like many other North Carolina localities, charges impact fees to recover the costs of additional transportation infrastructure that must be built to support development. The city billed Duke more than $1,400 per 1,000 square feet of new construction to provide for additional roads.

The city is also asking Duke to increase its contribution toward city fire protection.

Duke challenged the transportation impact fee, contending they were far too high. In response to the appeal, the city hired the Raleigh firm of Kimley-Horn and Associates to determine how appropriate its fee structure was.

The consultants concluded that Durham should create a separate impact-fee category for major research universities with rates of just under $800 per 1,000 square feet. Future expansion at the Duke Medical Center would be charged a slightly higher fee. Other local colleges’ impact fees would be cut to about $900 per 1,000 square feet of new construction.

Duke’s consultant, meanwhile, has recommended an fee of less than $300 per 1,000 square feet.

His lower value was based upon the availability of on-campus housing, public transportation access, and the school’s urban setting.

Duke is pushing for a quick resolution of the issue. “We fear that the issue of future traffic has the potential to delay approval of several of our major projects,” Duke Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III told City Manager Marcia Conner in a recent letter. “This must not happen.”

Lowrey is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.