Iredell vote could derail Red Line
by Staff Writer
Iredell County Commissioners have tentatively scheduled a vote on the Red Line Regional Rail Project for mid-January, but if Chairman Stephen Johnson had his way, he would derail the plan immediately.
Johnson panned the project Tuesday, Dec. 20. He called for commissioners to vote on it as soon as possible if they didn’t support it, so that county staff doesn’t waste any more time on the issue.
“If these folks want an answer, I can speak for only myself, and the answer is no,” Johnson said. “It’s been no, and it will forever be no. I’ve listened to these people obfuscate every time you try to ask them a question. I do not trust them. I do not trust their judgment. I do not trust their business model. I do not trust their theory of decision-making.”
Johnson compared that theory of decision-making to when “a room of idiots get together and decide that something is coherent. … Since everybody in the room thinks it’s coherent, then it’s true.”
The $452 million project includes upgrades to 25 miles of railroad from downtown Charlotte to Mooresville, which consultants say could generate 23,000 jobs to Charlotte’s north corridor. The project would not only spur economic development along the rail, but also help mitigate congestion along the Lake Norman portion of Interstate 77, consultants said.
Project leaders had called for boards in Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Mooresville, as well as Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, to analyze the project’s financial plan through mid-March and approve it by June 30. But if Iredell opts out early, then the others would have to follow suit.
After all, Davidson Mayor John Woods has said the project fails without Iredell County’s support. That’s because the plan calls for the seven jurisdictions to finance half of the project costs through methods such as tax increment financing and special assessment districts.
Commissioner Ken Robertson asked the county attorney to research how businesses along the rail wind up in such districts and if the General Assembly could potentially vote to exempt certain categories of owners from having to pay special assessments. If so, that would be a deal-breaker for him.
Finally, Robertson asked the attorney if the county will be left on the hook to make up any shortfalls due to General Assembly exemptions or in general.
During a four-hour summit Dec. 13 in Mooresville, consultants assured leaders that the project wouldn’t increase property taxes or put the towns or counties at risk if revenues lagged. Paul Morris, deputy secretary of transit for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the state would act as a backstop for lagging revenues.