While the tale is sweet, the shock in Charlotte sure isn’t:
“People are asking, ‘We’re Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re big banks. How did we get like this?’ ” says county budget director Hyong Yi. The answer is rooted in that once booming economy. As Charlotte burgeoned, the county approved $1.5 billion in bonds to build a new courthouse and new schools, expand its jails, improve its parks and — irony alert — open state-of-the-art libraries. Then the recession hit. Local unemployment rose to 11.7% in January — twice what it was two years earlier. Homes and commercial real estate lost value, which dried up the county’s chief revenue source, property taxes. The result: a 5% reduction in the upcoming budget, $71 million in cuts on top of $76 million in cuts the year before. Losing nearly $150 million in two years — an eternity of lemonade stands won’t fill that hole.
Like unemployment, this is an important story, and one that demands creativity to tell it well. For clues, check out Stateline.org, a project of the Pew Center on the States, which has been doing a lot of good work on the beat.