A bill that would have changed the distribution of Buncombe County’s controversial hotel tax to better benefit local government is likely dead until at least next year. The change would have reduced the share of room tax money to market and advertise Asheville as a tourist destination.
Two lawsuits filed in 2018, both of which reached final settlements on June 8, challenged several of the fees Asheville has used to raise money for repairs and updates to the water system. Together, the settlements could have the city pay nearly $2 million to dismiss claims that those fees were charged illegally and prevent the collection of $37 million in fees over the next five years.
The proposed general fund budget of nearly $335.65 million marks a 1.1% decrease from the current fiscal year’s $339.46 million total. To support those expenditures, the county would use more than $11.33 million of its fund balance, down roughly 23% from the $14.79 million in reserves spent this year.
Since March 16, local government boards and commissions meetings have been canceled, meaning citizens have largely been shut out of formal policy discussions as Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners manage the tandem economic and public health crises caused by the coronavirus.
The total fiscal 2020-2021 city budget proposal stands at $184.6 million, a 3% decrease from last year’s total of $190.3 million, and will continue funding for existing services while limiting new programs, service enhancements and initiatives. The property tax rate would remain the same under the proposal, and no fee increases are recommended.
Council members will consider approving multiple incentives for projects at 11 Collier Avenue and 2 Restaurant Court. The first would receive a Land Use Incentive Grant of more than $383,000, while the second would get a LUIG of more than $289,000, as well as a $1 million loan from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
Debra Campbell, Asheville’s city manager, said she was recommending no new spending for projects that Council had previously explored, such as renewable energy on city buildings. All departments have also been asked to cut their budgets as much as possible, “with a focus on minimizing operational impacts.”
According to a staff report available before City Council’s meeting of Tuesday, May 12, 60 hotel rooms at the Red Roof Inn in West Asheville would replace the city’s emergency group shelter at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, which has a capacity of 50 and currently houses 32.
The legislative change allows the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to use $5 million from its Tourism Product Development Fund — which previously had to be allocated to nonprofit entities or local government and spent on capital projects — for grants of up to $50,000 in support of tourism businesses other than lodging.
The plan, which has been under development since July and was initially expected to be adopted in September, lists four “community focus areas” for Buncombe’s leaders: an educated and capable community, environmental and energy stewardship, resident well-being and a vibrant economy.
The spending reductions presented on April 21 by Budget Director Jennifer Barnette totaled about $1.5 million — less than 7% of an estimated $22 million gap between revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2021 — in areas ranging from the Buncombe County Detention Center to information technology.
“This could be a catastrophic change in revenue year over year,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer about projections for fiscal year 2021. “Before we start spending new money, I want to know if we’re going to see a little bit of a normalization on the horizon. I don’t want to be sitting here with a $20 million deficit in the next fiscal year.”
“Anybody that follows the economy or follows the news will tell you that there’s a big elephant in the room that we can’t measure, and we’re all thinking about it, and it’s going to affect your planning,” Tom Tveidt, president of SYNEVA Economics, told Council members at their March 13 annual retreat. “That being said, I think there will be a pre-coronavirus economy and a post-coronavirus economy.”
One ordinance to be approved by Asheville City Council would grant Mayor Esther Manheimer the authority to proclaim any new regulations deemed “reasonably necessary to maintain order and protect lives or property during a state of emergency.”
Over the 30-day period that began Feb. 27 and runs through March 26, the city and county are planning to issue a total of nearly $233 million in debt. With so much funding set to flow into local coffers, Xpress looked at what goes into a local government credit ratings and their influence on money management.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will hear an update on the local status of COVID-19, then consider a $250,000 appropriation to provide funding for the county’s emergency response. Of that money, $200,000 would be available to the county’s public safety efforts, while $50,000 would be allocated to human services.
Sixth time’s a charm? Asheville City Council approved new affordability conditions for the RAD Lofts mixed-used development slated for the city’s River Arts District, the latest in a string of conditional zoning amendments approved by Council since 2013.
During their meeting of Tuesday, March 10, Asheville City Council members will consider a $473,000 contract for emergency repairs at the North Fork Water Plant, the largest of the city’s three water treatment plants.
As in hundreds of other cities throughout the country, urban renewal dramatically changed Asheville’s neighborhoods and streetscapes. Established by the Housing Act of 1949 to clear blighted neighborhoods, the federal initiative displaced millions of predominantly African American individuals and families between the 1950s and 1980s.
Fall Line Development wants to build 585 apartments or condominiums, 80 townhomes and 32 single-family homes on Pond Road, not quite half a mile north of the road’s intersection with Sardis Road in Enka. Neighbors have raised concerns about the development’s potential impact on traffic and the character of the area.
At the recommendation of the Buncombe County Republican Party, the board is scheduled to appoint Anthony Penland to fill the District 2 vacancy left by the late Commissioner Mike Fryar during its regular meeting. Penland will face Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in November’s general election.