At the end of a rollercoaster budget season marked by dire predictions, unpredictability at the state level, and Asheville City Council members trying to find the cash for their own plans, there’s finally a vote on the budget this evening. For the first time since 1995, city residents could see a major tax increase, intended to pay for an “aspirational” list of major projects.
Even as late as the June 11 public hearing on the budget two weeks ago, Council was thrown another curveball, as inclusion in a state recreation authority bill — which, they’d anticipated, could saved the city $2.5 million over the coming year — became increasingly unlikely. This season has been marked by sparring — sometimes public — between state legislators and local officials, including a lawsuit over the fate of the city’s water system. Emails obtained by Xpress recently revealed exchanges about settling the water lawsuit, the recreation authority bill, and even a move to impose district elections.
The latest version of the recreation bill has a two-year delay before Asheville could participate and see any savings, and dueling budget plans from the state House and Senate make it unclear how city revenues will shake out.
In Council’s eyes, that leaves a choice between abandoning a list of “aspirational” projects (in the words of Council member Gordon Smith) or using a tax increase to fund them. While some expressed concerns about the level of tax burden — especially as Buncombe County is also considering a sizable tax hike — the majority of Council directed staff to draw up a budget including a tax increase.
The tax rate was already set to go up 1 cent per $100 to compensate for sluggish construction growth declining revenue following the most recent property tax revaluation. To make the list a reality, staff are proposing an additional three cent hike, meaning that the coming year’s tax rate will go from 42 cents per $100 to 46 cents.
The list covers everything from affordable housing to parking decks to road improvements and money for the Asheville Art Museum. Some of the items — particularly the funding for the art museum — attracted some criticism a the public hearing that they’re unnecessary compared to more pressing priorities.
Asheville City Council will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, on the second floor of City Hall.