Asheville City Council approved interim budget appropriations for July — including over $2.4 million to the Asheville Police Department — as commenters flooded the phone lines at the June 23 virtual meeting to demand that city leadership “defund the police.” Council also unanimously approved moving the fiscal year 2020-21 budget public hearing and adoption to Tuesday, July 28.
State law mandates that Asheville must adopt its annual property tax rate by Saturday, Aug. 1, explained Barbara Whitehorn, the city’s chief financial officer, in a presentation to Council. The property tax rate cannot be set while operating on an interim budget, she said, requiring Council to shift its public hearing and final budget adoption vote from the previously set date of Tuesday, Sept. 8, to comply with the deadline.
But that final budget won’t really be final, Whitehorn noted. To allow for further public conversation and community engagement, the budget Council will vote to adopt in late July will only include three months of funding allocated to departments and programs. The rest of the money will be set aside as nondepartmental funds, meaning no city department or program can access it. A proposal outlining allocations for those three months has not yet been released.
Concurrently, City Manager Debra Campbell will work with community members to decide how best to distribute the reserved funding among community programs and city departments, including the APD. On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Campbell will present a budget amendment to Council to officially reallocate the remaining money based on public input.
“There will be some engagement between now and July, but what we understood was that we couldn’t do enough in that short period of time to really give people the opportunity to have their voice heard and really develop a budget that speaks to the community,” Whitehorn said.
Many community members didn’t want to wait until later in the process to voice their concerns. For an hour, 25 different callers phoned into the meeting’s live speaker queue, advocating that the APD’s budget be cut by at least 50%. Many cited Black AVL Demands, a self-described “intergenerational collective of Black leaders” calling for “divestment from the police and investment in Black communities.”
“There is clearly a list of the things that we’ve asked for, and it was clearly written on the street in bright yellow letters to defund the police, so I’m a little uncertain what more community engagement would look like,” said Chris O’Leary of Asheville, referencing a mural painted by protesters in front of City Hall on June 21. “Right now, we’re engaging and not being heard.”