Mayors from a variety of cities across North Carolina gathered in Asheville Oct. 23 for a luncheon that included an update from N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca and a panel discussion on economic development.
“I’d like to welcome you to Asheville, we hope you spend a lot of money. We need it,” said Apodaca at the opening event of the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition’s annual meeting.
Acknowledging that there have often been tensions between municipalities and the General Assembly since Republicans took control in 2010, Apodaca said: “I know we’ve probably had some rough beginnings.” But instead of reviewing things that happened over the last few years which sparked disagreement, he focused on a few key issues likely to come up next year during the next legislative session. “We’re all going to have to work together going forward,” he said.
This year the legislature changed privilege tax rules in a way that will cost Asheville about $1.5 million a year, according to Mayor Esther Manheimer. Apodaca said next year the Senate wants “to do something not to kill the cities on that issue. We will work with you guys on this.”
Several mayors at the luncheon, held at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, also expressed concern with the Legislature’s recent move to end the historic tax credit, which had been helpful in preserving historic buildings in Asheville and elsewhere. In response, Apodaca said state senators have already started “discussions to restore” such credits, possibly next year, he said, cautioning, “but I can’t promise you.”
Although he didn’t reveal specifics, he also said he wants the Senate to look at “expanding the base and lowering the rate of sales tax.” This, he told the group of mayors, “would be advantageous to cities and your tax revenue.”
In general, Apodaca said he thinks metropolitan areas in the state, including Asheville, are seeing “healthy” economic growth. However, he said he sees “tremendous problems” trying to expand such growth to rural areas such as Graham County.
As Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Operations, Apodaca, a Republican, has become one of the most powerful figures in the General Assembly. He faces a challenge in this year’s election from Democrat Rick Wood to represent District 48, which includes Henderson and Transylvania counties as well as a section of southern Buncombe County.
The luncheon also featured presentations by Jay Richardson, general manager of New Belgium Brewing Company, Oscar Wong, founder of Highland Brewing, Leah Wong Ashburn, vice-president of Highland Brewing and Ben Teague, director of economic development for the Asheville Area Chamber.
After they each shared thoughts on what their organizations are doing to contribute to the growth of Asheville, Manheimer told the roomful of visiting mayors: “The quality of life discussion is what drives everything in Asheville. Enhancing quality of life also makes good business sense.”
Later that day, the Mayors Coalition was scheduled to take a tour of the River Arts District.
The next morning, Oct. 24, Buncombe County Statehouse Representatives Nathan Ramsey and Susan Fisher as well as Senator Terry Van Duyn were scheduled to address the group.