Council gets glimpse at budget challenges; moves on signs, drive-thrus

At a Finance Committee meeting today, Feb. 11, city staff told Asheville City Council members that despite an increase in property values, the city still faces many of the recurring budget challenges. Later, at its regular meeting, Council approved a controversial drive-thru development and larger signs for Biltmore Park Town Square.

• With the Buncombe County’s initial tax revaluation numbers in, the city of Asheville showed a two percent increase in property values. This means that if the city keeps it’s current tax rate — 42 cents per $100 of property value — it will take in more money, though the average city property owner will see their tax bill go up.

However, Administration and Finance Director Lauren Bradley told Council’s Finance Committee this afternoon that many of the underlying issues remain the same, and after tax revaluation appeals were done and increased costs in areas ranging from healthcare to elections were factored in, the city could find itself in roughly the same situation as last year, with revenues slightly behind expenditures. Further, proposals by some state legislators to abolish local privilege licenses (which would lose the city $1.7 million) and transfer the water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District (costing the city at least $1.8 million) might also complicate the budget picture, Bradley noted.

City officials will have more information in late February, when they find out how much sales-tax revenue the city will receive this year. Council will hold a special budget work session in late March.

• At its regular meeting, Council unanimously passed a controversial rezoning proposal for drive-thrus as part of a Harris Teeter development on Merrimon Avenue. The public hearing on the project was initially held Jan. 22, but the developers requested more time. They returned with proposals to change several aspects of the development, including more of a buffer zone and investing $30,000 in improvements to a nearby intersection.

Residents of the adjoining Five Points neighborhood said they still had reservations about the type of development. But some said that the changes had addressed enough of their concerns for the rezoning to go ahead.

• Council also passed, 5-2, a proposal for larger signs in Biltmore Park Town Square. The “urban village” style development has 30 percent of its retail space still vacant, and the Biltmore Farms company asserted the signs are necessary to ensure the development’s success. Most of Council agreed, saying that the distance from the road and the need for denser development in south Asheville justified the move. However, Council members Cecil Bothwell worried about the precedent allowing such an exception to the city’s usual signage rules will set. He and Council member Chris Pelly voted against the measure.

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