Xpress staff reporter David Forbes began his live coverage via Twitter of today’s City Council meeting at 5:06 p.m.
Council is beginning its meeting with employee recognitions. The chambers is packed. Firefighters, public works and police recognized for “around the clock” efforts during snowstorms (http://tweetphoto.com/18324540)
City Mgr Gary Jackson: City had four times as many calls for emergency services as normal during the snowstorms.
It’s a recognition-filled meeting: Council and city manager are now saluting outgoing CFO Ben Durant.
Civic Center report: There have been fewer “dark days” without events this year. Also: About 3,000 people showed up for the last Blue Ridge rollergirls bout at the Center. Fifty percent of ticket-buyers for major events come from over 75 miles away. The Center is a “major economic driver,” says board Chair Mike Burke. He adds that Civic Center facilities will need improvements to attract higher-profile events that are seeking to come to Asheville.
City of Asheville CFO Ben Durant is being recognized for his service. He is moving on to a new position. Mayor Bellamy says she believes Durant’s financial work is based on sound figures.
Council amends acceptance of state bus-route Black Mountain in order to ask the federal government to deem the route “inter-city,” rather than “intracity.” Current federal equations, due to a fluke, consider the Asheville urban-transit area as covering 200,000-plus people, an area that includes Blk Mtn.
Council unanimously approves using federal stimulus funds to install West Asheville sidewalks.
Council unanimously approves voluntary annexation of two properties in the airport area.
Council is most of way through agenda, only a few people in chambers, sun still out #strange.
Council delays voting on agreement to maintain Pack Square Park because details of the partnership still being worked out.
Staff reporter Forbes’ last tweet was sent at 8:27 p.m.
City Attorney Bob Oast is presenting the city’s agenda for our state legislators to bring in in this year’s short session. Oast says we can’t realistically be too ambitious with short session. Council might ask to adjust the boundary with Woodfin, and use water as incentive for annexation. “We’ve got a very short time to get these in,” Oast says, so goals mostly need to be limited.
The League of Municipalities is asking Asheville to join in opposing proposed laws that would require collective bargaining with police and fire employees.
Mayor Bellamy says, “This could have some huge impacts on how we do business as a city” and requests Oast to study the League’s request.
“So the idea’s people would have an option to form unions, which they don’t now,” says Vice Mayor Newman. He says he doesn’t want to take position.
“I’m very much in favor of unionization at every turn,” says Council member Bothwell. He calls the state anti-union laws “dastardly.”
“I’m torn on the issue of unions,” says Council member Manheimer. She says sees benefits to workers, but also they can be “crushing to employer.”
Union law “would be fairly devastating to city and our budget,” says Council member Davis, but he says he wants more info before making decision.
State Sen. Martin Nesbitt and Rep. Bruce Goforth are ready to meet as soon as possible with Council once we have unanimous agreement on our legislative priorities, Bellamy says.
Bellamy, speaking on state public-financing legislation, says “It’s not fair to say someone bought their seat because they’re good at raising dollars.” Proposed state public-financing legislation would give cities option to debate and decide on public financing of candidates’ campaigns. Council will get more info on public-financing legislation and decide at later date whether to support it.
Council approves asking legislators for: the Woodfin boundary change, clarifying energy improvements and public-access funding, and greater annexation leeway.
Asheville’s predatory towing ordinance seems to be working, Oast notes, adding that complaints have declined.
Council is going into closed session to discuss “potential litigation,” and property acquisitions.
Council is considering 5 percent increase in water fees, an increase in price of bus passes, plus planning, construction and other fees.
Asheville resident Fred English says during the comment period that “you’ve got to spend money wisely,” saying the city shouldn’t spend on things like art on buses.
Manheimer says the city has made “a good move” in using fee increases to recover the costs of the services it provides.
Newman says he will vote for fee increases, but likes the transit-fee increases the least, saying he “wouldn’t support raising them any more.”
Bellamy says she won’t support fees because they hit the already-reeling building industry.
Davis says he’s also reluctant, but the “fees are fair… part of the cost of doing business.”
Bothwell says, “I don’t think these fees will keep anyone from building” and that the transit passes are still a bargain.
Bellamy says that 70 percent of transit users don’t have other methods of transportation; they’ll feel fee increases.
Transit and general-fee increases pass, 5-2, with Bellamy and Russell opposed.
Water fees now being considered.
Russell will oppose water-fee hikes, feels this would’ve been good year to take a break given spate of recent improvements.
Bellamy says the city doing the right thing by raising fees, and making sure revenue is paying for improvements and the incurred debt.
Manheimer says, “I somewhat resent, in a friendly way, those on Council who oppose this… [We] can’t keep saying no to every adjustment.”
Council passes a 4 percent increase in water-fees for consumption, 6-1, Russell opposed.
Council is now voting on an additional 1 percent hike, this one for water-system capital improvements.
Newman is supporting the increase, but wants to look at the water-fee structure, so increases hit working families less, and encourages conservation.
Council member Smith says that breweries, coffee shops are among those who will feel the brunt of the increase.
The second, capital-improvement, increase passes 4-3 with Bellamy, Russell and Davis against.
Council is discussing contributing $100,000 to the UNC-Chapel Hill pharmaceutical satellite school, to be established in Asheville, which the UNC Board of Governors approved last week. Council approves the contribution, 6-1, Bothwell opposed.
High school students are speaking to Council on behalf of a Planned Parenthood youth initiative, advocating on behalf of STI prevention and sex ed.
During the comment period, Asheville resident Fred English says he is almost embarassed to be part of Asheville, “the way things are going.” And Chris Chiaromonte complains about proximity of downtown police auxiliary to public restrooms, and city’s plan to end homelessness. He says, “Asheville’s known for one thing: If you want to do a study, come here; they’ll pay for it.”