Asheville City Council: For a few dollars more

Community: Shiloh residents attending an informal Asheville City Council community meeting noted recent improvements but questioned whether they’re receiving the same services as other neighborhoods. Photos by Max Cooper.

Infrastructure, service concerns front and center at Shiloh community meeting

Whenever there's a fifth Tuesday in the month, Asheville City Council members leave their historic City Hall chamber and trek down to an area neighborhood to hold a community meeting. Typically, a high-ranking official gives a presentation about the city's financial constraints and describes some neighborhood-specific efforts before Council takes questions.

Accordingly, City Council convened Oct. 30 at the Shiloh Community Center in south Asheville. Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson talked about the tight budget, citing Asheville's daytime-to-nighttime population ratio (the highest in the state) and state-imposed limitations on things like annexation and certain kinds of taxes as obstacles to providing all the services residents want.

For the roughly 30 people who came out on this cold, windy night (including some from other south Asheville neighborhoods), the key issues seemed to be replacing aging infrastructure and beefing up city services.

The neighborhood has seen significant improvements, noted Sophie Dixon, president of the Shiloh Community Association. She mentioned traffic-calming efforts, increased affordable housing, better bus service and more community events. The organization has also worked on getting city water to those residents still on wells and extending sewer lines throughout the area.

“We all understand the loss of revenue or funding,” noted the Rev. Spencer Hardaway of Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church. “But we would like Shiloh to be considered; we're in line to have it done when you do have the funding. Sometimes Rock Hill or Shiloh feel like we're not considered first for services. Not everybody on Rock Hill Road has sewer, and it's been a long time. When will those city residents be afforded the same services?”

Resident Derek Foster sounded a similar note, saying, “One of the main concerns I hear in Shiloh are the streets: They haven't been resurfaced in over 20 years. I also have some concerns about the community center here.”

City staff said the center is due for renovation in 2014. Because of budget constraints, the city can replace roads only every 80 years, on average, rather than the 20 years state standards recommend, noted Public Works Director Cathy Ball.

Oak Forest and Crowfields residents also asked about the state of sidewalks, and staff said they hope to install them along parts of Hendersonville and Long Shoals roads, among other places, during the next few years.

South Asheville resident Andy Houston praised the city for forging partnerships but said that won’t be sufficient to meet coming challenges such as climate change and a lack of jobs among millennials.

Council member Cecil Bothwell said many of the city's issues are worsened by a hostile state Legislature, encouraging residents to vote for better politicians on Election Day.

Mayor Terry Bellamy noted that the city will face hard choices over the next year concerning which services it will be able to provide, “whether we'll be able to fund all the streets, all the sidewalks, all the programs with the resources we already have.

“We have the best relationship with our county commissioners we've ever had — ever — but if the state doesn't let us do something, we can't,” she continued. “That's why it's important to have legislators that are willing to work with us. Some just aren't.”

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

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