The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners got its first look at the county’s fiscal year 2020 budget at a noon meeting originally announced to review the agenda for the board’s 5 p.m. regular meeting on April 16.
Under the revised policy, all certified 501(c) nonprofits registered in Buncombe County would be able to buy property appraised at less than $30,000 for its fair market value, first come first served, during the 10 days after its declaration as surplus. Only after that window has passed would the property be listed online for perusal by the general public.
City Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn proposed that Asheville institute a program of regularly issued general obligation bonds to support capital improvement projects, while Council member Julie Mayfield discussed a property tax increase to boost Asheville’s operating budget.
Taken together, the adjustments on the docket would generate nearly $1 million in new annual revenue for water operations and capital improvements. In a staff report issued before the meeting, city CFO Barbara Whitehorn estimated the total annual impact of the changes as $6.60 per household.
“I don’t know how to stretch $230,000 into three-quarters of a million. I just don’t know how to do it. Maybe if I had Jesus here with the fish, and he was feeding everybody, maybe we could do that,” said committee member Keith Young to laughter from the audience. “That’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek response, but it is tough.”
Over the next few days, said Water Resources Director David Melton, customers may need to flush their water lines and hot water heaters to clear residual sediment. He said that city staff would work to make billing adjustments for customers who used additional water for this purpose.
During a March 14 listening session at The Collider in downtown Asheville about the DEQ’s Clean Energy Plan, a key provision of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 on clean energy and climate change, many of the roughly 70 Western North Carolina residents in attendance expressed frustration that the state wasn’t doing enough.
At a budget work session on March 26, city CFO Barbara Whitehorn reported that Asheville can expect to receive $2.5 million in property and sales taxes from the health system in fiscal year 2019-20 — only half of the $5 million initially estimated by the Buncombe County tax office — then $5 million instead of $8 million for every year to follow.
Asheville City Council will be asked to add its piece of a $39.7 million redevelopment puzzle on Tuesday evening. The 2016 General Obligation Housing Bond will provide $1.82 million, while $1.38 million will come from the city’s general fund and $1 million will be spent from the Affordable Housing Capital Improvement Program.
In conjunction with Buncombe County voters and members of Raleigh-based lobbying group Common Cause North Carolina, the mayor will discuss how gerrymandering splits Asheville voters and advocate for nonpartisan districting reform. The press conference takes place at Pack Square Park on Tuesday, March 26, at 10:30 a.m.
“If you take one thing away from this rally, let it be this: You are not as small as you think you are,” said Asheville High School freshman Clay Swan-Davis. The event, part of a global strike involving over 1.4 million young activists, called for “radical legislative action to combat climate change.”
Mayor Esther Manheimer pointed to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s recent commitment to long-term planning around hotel occupancy taxes as a key factor in her support for the project. “That is the kind of change that I needed to see personally before I would move forward with considering another hotel,” she said, joining Council members Vijay Kapoor, Julie Mayfield and Sheneika Smith in the approval vote.
“This may hurt some feelings, but you can no longer operate the city of Asheville like it’s the Oprah Winfrey talk show, where you get a car and you get a car,” said Council member Keith Young, referencing the daytime TV host’s famous giveaways. “As much as we love all these programs and trying to help the public good… this is the time to close the bank.”
By adding a dedicated urban forester, crafting an urban forest master plan and strengthening the current municipal tree ordinance, say members of Asheville’s Tree Commission, the city can manage its growth in a greener and more climate-resilient way. “The more hard surface we have, the more green we need to balance it out,” says commission chair Stephen Hendricks.
While Mayor Esther Manheimer recommended in October that local hoteliers Pratik Bhakta and Monark Patel resubmit their proposal to Asheville City Council in at least “a year’s time,” the two aren’t waiting. Their hotel is back on the agenda for Council’s meeting of Tuesday, March 12, less than five months after its first consideration.
On March 1, city spokesperson Ashley Traynum-Carson said in a press release the needle exchange would now be considered a medical clinic after it formalized a commitment to have a medical professional on-site during operation. The process by which Asheville arrived at its new position, however, remains unclear.
As of late January, Equity and Inclusion Manager Kimberlee Archie’s office is fully staffed. Its four employees are together charged with advancing equity, which the city defines as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential,” and promoting inclusion, defined as “authentic and empowered participation with a true sense of belonging.”
The $1.4 million program, unanimously approved by Council members at their Feb. 26 meeting, offers no-interest loans of up to $40,000 for low- and moderate-income borrowers to make down payments on single-family residences within Asheville city limits.
Jason Carter’s creative instructional attitude recently earned him the honor of being named a Teacher Ambassador by the California-based National Center for Science Education. Along with nine colleagues from across the country, he will help develop, test and deploy a curriculum that addresses climate change denial.
Funded by a $60,000 grant from Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund and developed by city staff in conjunction with Asheville GreenWorks and RiverLink, the plan lays out environmental and aesthetic projects such as stormwater control, invasive species removal, wildlife habitat construction and an ecological mural.
Even accounting for the fossil fuels needed to generate the electricity they will use, said Council member Julie Mayfield, each vehicle will produce 54 fewer tons of annual carbon emissions than one of Asheville’s current buses. Once all five buses hit the streets, the total emissions savings of 270 tons will make up a third of the city’s annual carbon reduction target.