What’s in, what’s out: A look at Asheville’s new budget

The city of Asheville’s proposed budget for the upcoming year has money for holiday bus service, studying an overhaul of the city’s zoning, and a raise for city staff. But some other priorities didn’t make the cut.

Earlier in the budget deliberation process, staff presented a “menu” of options for Asheville City Council to choose from. The list was one of the first times dollar amounts were put publicly to a number of items (like Sunday bus service) that have been discussed for years.

Now that the proposed budget is out, the public can see what choices staff made. Asheville City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget next Tuesday, May 22.

A short look at what’s in and out.

In

A raise for city staff – Due to the economic downturn and ensuing city budget crunch, staff haven’t had a raise in three years. This year, multiple council members cited changing that as a high priority. The budget plans for a one percent cost-of-living raise, coming in at $460,000, with a possible one-time bonus if the city has better-than-expected budget performance.

More money for transit, including holiday service – The budget devotes $116,000 more to the the transit system from parking revenue funds. Some of this will offset declining state funds, but an additional $30,000 will go to providing holiday transit service on major routes. Sunday and holiday bus service is a long-time priority

More money for the affordable housing trust fund – The budget allocates an additional $200,000 that Council can loan to developments that provide increased affordable housing. Increasing them has been a priority for many on the current Council, who ran on improving the city’s housing situation.

Studying a form-based zoning code – While this item sounds wonky (and will certainly be the subject of future analysis from Xpress), it could have a big impact on Asheville’s development. A form-based code might be friendlier to multiple uses, encourage density, and reduce the need for the conditional use permits and revisions that currently occupy plenty of staff and Council’s time. The budget allocates $100,000 to study what it would take to implement this change.

Out

Subsidy for a downtown Business Improvement District – The budget doesn’t provide any of the $200,000 that proponents of a downtown Business Improvement District requested. While the creation of a BID (mostly funded by a special tax assessment on downtown property owners) is on Council’s agenda for June 12, no subsidy is allocated for it in the current budget. BID advocates have told the Downtown Commission that they will ask for a much smaller subsidy, about a quarter of the original request.

Sunday bus service – A longtime desire of transit advocates and many users, staff’s menu of budget options revealed that running Sunday service on major routes would cost about $190,000 a year. However, staff didn’t include that service in the proposed budget, opting for holiday service instead.

Vacuum leaf collection – This service cost the city $525,000 a year and fell prey to tight budgetary times. While popular among some neighborhood residents and on the list of budget options, Council members generally felt the high cost made reinstating this a low priority.

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