Fingers to the wind

Once the Asheville High School marching band left, few observers remained as City Council members got an early look Feb. 26 at the budget and legislative challenges they face this year. The meeting was short, dominated by a litany of staff and board reports.

Money

The city's financial situation is, according to staff, holding steady, but there are some trouble spots. Property-tax revenue will likely be less than last year, despite modest growth in the city, according to recent countywide revaluations. Also, federal transit subsidies are decreasing, and there’s less projected revenue from the U.S. Cellular Center. But sales-tax revenues are higher than expected. Still, any gains may be outweighed by increased costs, city staff concluded.

Legislation

Proposed and pending legislation could also affect the city's finances. One proposed bill would eliminate cities’ extra-territorial jurisdiction (an area just outside city limits where its zoning rules apply). Council member Marc Hunt suggested, “The city and county should look at reducing or eliminating the ETJ on terms that are acceptable,” given that the oversight rules were established when the county had no zoning.

Also, legislators may mandate that Asheville's water system be transferred to the Metropolitan Sewerage District; city officials say it could reduce revenue by at least $1.7 million a year. MSD and the city are currently negotiating a possible deal of their own, with particular interest in sharing health-care costs, said Project Manager Phil Kleisler.

City Manager Gary Jackson added that state legislators are seeking broad changes to the tax code and making no promise to leave cities' revenue at current levels. “Anything that is a source of revenue enabled by the state Legislature is under review,” he said.

Other business

Council unanimously approved rules easing expansion and renovation rules for one-story buildings in downtown Asheville. In particular, the revisions allow owners to add floors to existing structures. The city's previous rules for downtown were written nearly 100 years ago, when more new multistory construction was expected instead of renovations that would, potentially, build upward.

In recent years, there have been more requests for renovations or modifications of existing structures. “We've had three new buildings in the last 10 years, but we've had a lot of renovations,” said Urban Planner Alan Glines. “This amendment aligns with goals of growth, development and the preservation of existing building stock.”

Council member Cecil Bothwell said that taller buildings are less energy efficient, so he had problems with the city's code encouraging them in downtown, but he voted for the measure. There was no public comment.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137 or dforbes@mountainx.com.

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