At budget town hall, Ashevilleans endorse tax hike, some cuts

Unlike the last budget crunch town hall, tonight’s Asheville City Council forum in South Asheville was less a public comment marathon and more of a brainstorming session. After breaking into small groups, the roughly 40 residents who attended endorsed a property tax increase, along with some cuts and some suggestions of their own, to close Asheville’s budget gap.

City staff, led by Lauren Bradley, the city’s finance chief, said that a manageable budget gap threatened to become a dire situation. Proposed state legislation would forcibly transfer the water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District, de-annex the Asheville Regional Airport, and end the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. As part of statewide “revenue reform,” business privilege license revenues and utility franchise fees may also disappear.

She emphasized that legislation may not pass or may be heavily modified, but that the city has to make contingency plans. Presenting the audience with a “menu” of budget options, including cuts in everything from transit to police to cultural arts, and tax increases (every 1 cent per $100 increase gets the city $1.1 million and costs the owner of a $200,000 home $20 more a year). The attendees then broke into groups and discussed the proposal, along with offering a few of their own.

A 2 cents per $100 property tax increase was the overwhelming favorite, with cuts to administration and support personnel top among possible things on the chopping block. Some also felt cuts to police presence downtown, infrastructure, and the cultural arts were necessary. One group proposed an even higher tax increase, while others favored a four percent across-the-board budget cut to spread the hit across different departments. More revenue from tourists — through a hotel tax increase, for example — was also a popular option.

Staff and Council will take the input into account as they seek to craft a budget that closes the gap. Ashevilleans can send ideas and input about the budget to city government here.

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