Council contemplates tax increase, possible water lawsuit, approves Whole Foods development

Tonight, April 23, Asheville City Council discussed a possible tax hike to help offset some financial impacts that pending state legislation could have on the current budget crunch. And Mayor Terry Bellamy said she’d vote to sue the state if it went through with a proposal to forcibly transfer the city’s water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District. Council also approved a Tunnel Road commercial development anchored by a Whole Foods.

In a pre-meeting budget worksession, city staff presented their latest proposal for countering the revenue loss posed by some bills coming out of the North Carolina General Assembly. Staff’s plans assume gaining a net $1 million in revenue for each 1 cent per $100 property tax increase (meaning about $20 more a year for the owner of a $200,000 house) to offset a net $1 million loss due to the state’s overhaul of the tax system, deferring some infrastructure projects until the revenue situation is more clear, and some cuts — especially to parks and festivals, though more minor than what staff proposed a few weeks ago. The plan also assumes the city will still have the water system in July, due to either the administrative time required to transfer the system or because the issue may be tied up in court. Bellamy was blunt, saying she would vote to sue the state if the transfer bill passes.

Some Council members went further in their budget recommendations. Council member Cecil Bothwell advocated for a 4 cents tax increase, asserting that if the owners of a $350,000 house said they couldn’t afford $150 more a year, they were lying. Council member Chris Pelly suggested that a 2 cents increase might be reasonable. At a recent budget town hall in south Asheville, residents who participated in budget roundtable discussions overwhelmingly supported such an increase, as well as cuts to the city’s central administration.

Council members took no votes in the work session half of the day’s meeeting, scheduling a new budget meeting for 10 a.m., Friday, May 17, in the first-floor conference room of City Hall. At that meeting, they’ll narrow down their budget priorities for the coming year, including a possible tax increase and more fully assessing what impacts state legislation could have.

In the subsequent regular session, Council unanimously approved the Asheville Market development, which will have a Whole Foods as its anchor store. The developer — Columbia, S.C.-based EDENS — plans to demolish or renovate the buildings currently on the site, including a vacant K-Mart. While Bellamy raised concerns after owners of a neighboring AT&T store said the changes will decrease their access, she voted to let the development go through.

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