Asheville City Council

  • Council members air budget gripes
  • Asheville to Raleigh: No annexation moratorium
  • Federal brownfields grants earmarked for River District?

It collected only four votes, but that’s all that was needed for Swannanoa’s incorporation bid to advance to the next stage. Supporters and opponents had made their respective cases before the Asheville City Council on several occasions, but they finally got a vote during Council’s May 27 formal session.

Proponents are now hoping for a local referendum on the issue; that requires permission from the General Assembly, but Council’s nod could help smooth the way.

Digging in the dirt: Asheville’s River District is set to get more federal brownfield money, which will be administered by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and used to asssess polluted sites along the French Broad River. File Photo By Jonathan Welch

In several public hearings, incorporation supporters have said they want local control over funding and services; opponents have said they live in the area specifically to avoid city taxes and more extensive governmental regulation. Some have also charged that the incorporation drive was fueled by rumors of an impending annexation by Asheville—a claim organizers deny.

City Council’s eventual support was not unqualified, however—Council members formally spelled out concerns that the area in question is too vast and rural for the new town to properly provide city services, and that if Swannanoa began annexing to its west in the future, it could adversely affect Asheville.

Concerns about the proposed incorporation map arose early, and Council members have tried since early May to get supporters to adjust the western boundary eastward. On May 13, Council members had proposed following the 28805 ZIP code line, but two weeks later, the map remained largely unchanged.

Council member Brownie Newman said he would support the resolution, but he wanted to add a caveat concerning the large areas of undeveloped countryside claimed by the new town.

Some on Council had a problem with that, however. “We are saying we approve it but we don’t approve it. That’s a contradiction for me,” observed Council member Robin Cape, saying she’d like to see Swannanoa take another crack at reducing the area proposed for incorporation—“something we can get 100 percent behind.”

Vice Mayor Jan Davis agreed. “The resolution we have before us is quite a contradiction,” he said, adding, “I have a real problem with the size of this thing.”

Mayor Terry Bellamy, noting that she’d supported incorporation moves by both Woodfin and Leicester in the past, said she would vote for this one, too, though she added words of warning for those wanting their own town.

“I do think you are going to create some problems if you incorporated with those boundaries,” said Bellamy. “And it’s going to increase taxes on some of your neighbors … because county taxes don’t go away.”

In the end, the vote was 4-2, with Davis and Cape opposed (Council member Bill Russell was absent).

But Newman wasn’t done. He proposed a separate resolution declaring Council’s preference for setting the western boundary at the ZIP code line and asking the Swannanoa Incorporation Task Force to look more closely at excluding large tracts of rural land from the incorporation. That resolution also passed 4-2, this time with Cape and Council member Carl Mumpower opposed.

Budget deadline nears

At this time of year, nearly every City Council meeting includes some sort of budget update in preparation for a final vote in June (the new fiscal year begins July 1). But while other recent meetings have featured staff presentations, this time it was Council members’ turn to air their concerns about the proposed spending plan.

First out of the gate was Mumpower, who bemoaned the money earmarked for the transit system, festivals and the Housing Trust Fund. He also singled out the municipal golf course, conceding, “It’s going to frustrate and anger all sorts of golfers, but I don’t think the city should be in the golf business.”

Mumpower also reiterated his opposition to drawing down the city’s reserves in order to balance the budget.

That gave his Council colleagues plenty to work with, however, and Cape jumped right in. Since city taxes pay for roads, it’s not a big leap to fund public transit as well, she argued.

Davis, meanwhile, challenged Mumpower’s position on the fund balance, saying the money is put away specifically so it will be available for use if needed. “The fund balance is not a savings account,” he said. “It is money we have to do good things with.”

Bellamy, meanwhile, said she’d like to see more support for anti-gang policies in the city. “We’ve got to find some solution,” she asserted. “I’m getting calls, I’m getting e-mails and I’m getting stopped [on the street].”

A public hearing and final vote on the budget are both scheduled for June 10.

Ingress, egress progress: new parking plans

by Hal L. Millard
Have you ever found yourself stashing away two $1 bills before a night on the town so you can exit one of the city’s parking garages without getting a bucketful of dollar coins as change?

Well, that and some of the other more annoying aspects of using Asheville’s municipal garages (such as exit gates that sometimes refuse to budge) should be eliminated this year in the wake of City Council’s unanimous decision to earmark $356,820 for improving parking access and new revenue-control systems.

Among the more user-friendly features will be an option to use other payment methods, such as credit/debit cards. On the downside, the flat $2 after-hours exit rate may be a thing of the past. The new system will allow the garages to charge a variable rate based on how long you’ve been parked.

Some 580,000 patrons used the Civic Center, Rankin Avenue, and Wall Street parking garages last year, according to the city. The parking-access and revenue-control equipment runs the entry and exit gates, dispenses entry tickets, operates the FULL signs, accepts after-hours payments, accepts payments at the exit booths and provides operational and revenue-management reports.

“The current equipment is approximately seven years old. And it has been experiencing mechanical and/or software failures at an increasing rate. The auto cashier only accepts cash or coupons and can’t charge variable rates after hours. The equipment has been planned for replacement for several years, but was delayed when a planned Battery Park parking garage was not built,” Transportation & Engineering Director Cathy Ball explains.

Cincinnati Systems Inc. was the low bidder on the project, which was originally budgeted in the 2006-07 fiscal year. And since some of the existing infrastructure can be reused, the work—slated to commence later this year—should take only three months.

Just say no to annexation moratorium

Council members did find one thing they could all agree on, unanimously approving a resolution opposing a proposed statewide annexation moratorium. Suggested by the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation, the one-year moratorium would not only freeze any future annexations but would stall several Asheville efforts currently under judicial review. On May 20, Council had asked City Attorney Bob Oast to draft a resolution to send to Raleigh.

In other business, Council cleared the way for accepting $400,000 in federal brownfields grants for the River District. Last August, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council applied for the grants, which will be used to identify and assess contaminated sites in the arts district. Several on Council hailed the grants as a boon for the area’s continued redevelopment. Land-of-Sky staffer Kate O’Hara said the district is already absorbing most of the brownfields moneys allotted for her agency’s four-county region (Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Madison), so it makes sense to try to find additional money specifically targeting that area.

“Looking down there, we’ve got some great success stories,” she noted.

A resolution accepting the grants and appointing Land-of-Sky as the grant administrator passed 5-1, with Mumpower voting no.

Auntie Asheville wants you

The following boards and commissions have vacancies: WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, Citizens-Police Advisory Committee, Civic Center Commission, Civil Service Board, Crime Stoppers board of directors, Historic Resources Commission, Housing Authority and Recreation Board. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 12. Call 259-5601 for an application form.

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