What a coincidence. Republican State Sen. Trudy Wade of Greensboro, all of a sudden, inserted a provision in the Senate budget that would allow residents of a “special property tax district” to have a referendum on killing a tiny additional tax. The tax is used in historic districts to maintain a neighborhood’s character and fund landscaping, street lights and other projects.
Wade didn’t do much explaining about this maneuver, which would allow only the residents registered in the district to vote in the referendum, thus putting the tax’s fate in the hands of a relative few on an issue that could have an impact on the character of an entire city. That potential impact is why the fate of such taxes traditionally, and rightly, has been in the hands of local governments.
Wade said she’d had complaints from Greensboro historic districts. (Her measure would apply statewide.) But she won’t get specific. And the leaders of a Greensboro district still haven’t gotten an explanation about why Wade, who earlier led an outrageous effort to reorganize, from the state level, the way Greensboro City Council elections are done, did what she did.
It turns out the reason may be close to home. A Wade political adviser and former Greensboro City Council member, Bill Burckley, had a tussle with a neighborhood association in the College Hill historic district over a crumbling retaining wall on his property. Burckley wanted to take the wall down; the city’s historic commission ordered him to repair it, which was what the neighborhood association wanted. Burckley was not happy.
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This would not be the first time, of course, that someone who had an in with a lawmaker might have used that connection to push some legislation, if that’s what happened here. Burckley isn’t saying much. But the coincidences are curious.
Wade’s actions to change city council districts and weaken the mayor’s voting rights are easier to figure out. Republicans in the General Assembly already interfered in local affairs when, following a GOP loss in the Wake County commissioners race, legislators had the districts redrawn in Republican favor. The move by Wade on the Greensboro council was more of the same.
But this attempt to weaken special taxes, small special taxes, in some historic districts is meddling to an even greater extreme, and Wade’s weak-as-water explanations, along with her failure to really document any of these complaints about the taxes she says she’s gotten, seem to point to the gripes of Burckley as the real reason behind Wade’s budget maneuver.
That’s hardly reason enough to push through a measure that could affect over 50 municipalities with these “special service districts” and arbitrarily take proper authority away from city councils, where it belongs.