Asheville budget hearing marked by low turnout

FLYING SOLO: The sole speaker at the May 23 hearing was Just Economics Executive Director Vicki Meath, who called for increased spending on city transit services. Photo by Frances O'Conner

A public hearing on Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell’s proposed fiscal year 2023-24 operating budget — an occasion historically marked by dozens of residents making their cases for enhanced spending or budget cuts on a range of city services — was uncharacteristically quiet during the May 23 meeting of Asheville City Council. 

The statutorily required annual hearing saw just one commenter speak on the proposed budget. “This feels so bizarre,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer at the conclusion of the meeting.

The sole speaker, Just Economics of Western North Carolina Executive Director Vicki Meath, commended aspects of the proposed budget, such as the city’s investment in a transit study in partnership with Buncombe County. But she also called for increased spending on city transit services, including expanding evening hours and the frequency of bus service.

“While we understand the budgetary issues and the challenges to implementing those changes, I want to remind you that those changes were part of the Transit Master Plan that was approved in 2018,” Meath said. “These are changes that are desperately needed for transit riders and cannot wait another five years for implementation.” 

Before the hearing, city Budget Manager Taylor Floyd reiterated highlights of the proposed spending plan, including what he called “an unconventional use of fund balance” to cover expenses, such as an almost $4 million boost to the Asheville Police Department budget.

That increase would include a 6% raise for sworn APD officers. Floyd said that bump would put starting pay for officers at $47,232 per year. Police also would receive extra compensation for holding intermediate law enforcement certification, working night shifts or being on call. 

Hypothetically, Floyd explained, a starting officer with a bachelor’s degree and second-language experience who takes advantage of these extra compensation opportunities could earn nearly $57,000 per year. Senior officers, who currently earn around $63,300 in base pay and incentives, could make over $70,500 in fiscal year 2023-24 under the new pay structure. In both examples, Floyd did not say how many hours of overtime or on-call duty would be needed for officers to achieve those pay rates. 

While the police budget recommendation represents an increase of more than 13% over current funding levels, it was not enough to satisfy Council member Sage Turner. She said that even the senior officer pay illustrated in Floyd’s example “doesn’t translate, in this city, to being able to buy a house anymore.”

“It raises a little concern in me that the only way our officers can really afford to live in the city is to do a lot of overtime,” Turner continued. “Living wages are going up; our housing prices are skyrocketing. It’s not that we’re not doing the best we can. It’s just a concern that you really have to have two jobs in the city, or you have to work overtime. It just seems more and more common.”

All other city employees would see a 5% pay increase under the proposed spending plan. Council’s vote on the final budget is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, June 13.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

5 thoughts on “Asheville budget hearing marked by low turnout

  1. Bright

    Pretty funny…looks like the poo bag reticle in Xpress got more comments than the “budget” meeting of Asheville City Council. People see that it’s a waste of time, and this “Council” will do whatever they can get away with. Maybe a big change is brewing.

    • indy499

      What big change are you referring to?

      More of same is my prediction. People don’t go to these meetings because it is a waste of time.

      • Bright

        The “change” I refer to is not necessarily positive for the “powers” that are trying to dupe taxpayers again.

    • Taxpayer

      Exactly right. Residents are sick of showing up when council couldn’t care less what they think. Why bother? We need an entirely new city manager, council and mayor. We vote for them to represent us not do deals behind closed doors and then send out surveys they ignore. They’re the worst group of elected and appointed officials Asheville has ever had.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.