It’s official: Taxes are going up in Asheville.
During its June 22 meeting, Asheville City Council voted 6-1 to approve the $201.67 million operating budget for fiscal year 2021-22, which includes an effective property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 in valuation and $8.7 million in new spending. City residents will also pay higher taxes to Buncombe County after its Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an effective 2-cent rate increase on June 15.
The city budget allocates $6.7 million for increases in employee compensation, including raising Asheville’s firefighter pay to a minimum of $15 per hour. The budget also includes $1.1 million to extend bus service hours in line with the 2018 Transit Master Plan and $150,000 to fund Asheville’s participation in a county grant program that aims to mitigate the impacts of property tax increases for low-income homeowners.
Council member Kim Roney was the sole vote against the budget, arguing that the tax increase would harm poorer residents. She presented data compiled by Joe Minicozzi, former executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association and principal of municipal consulting firm Urban3, showing that values for the lowest-priced Buncombe homes have increased more than twice as much over the past 20 years as have values for the highest-priced properties, thus leading to disproportionately higher property tax bills. Those bigger value increases are concentrated in areas with high minority populations.
Ahead of the vote, Roney made a motion that would have frozen 15 of 88 vacant positions at the Asheville Police Department to free up money for other uses. She also moved to increase funding for the county homeowner grant program by as much as $1 million. “The ‘how’ we get to our budget funding matters,” she said.
But Council member Antanette Mosley, who said she had requested data from APD regarding crime statistics for Black women, said that Roney’s proposed hiring freeze could have negative consequences for that segment of the community.
“Despite comprising only 6% of Asheville’s population, Black females are 16% of all violent crime victims. The disparity is even greater when considering that one in every five — 20% — of domestic crime victims in our city are Black and female,” Mosley said. “Have we been able to extrapolate how many Black women will die if we reduce the number of police we have by 15? Has anyone considered that? I didn’t think so.” (Roney’s motion would not have eliminated existing officers, and the positions Mosley referenced are currently unfilled.)
Both of Roney’s amendments died on the floor without a second from any other member of Council.
Zack gives crime update
Council members also heard a presentation from APD Chief David Zack regarding various categories of crime in the city. He noted that Asheville’s number of violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, was about 45% higher in 2020 than in 2011.
Property crimes were about 30% higher in 2020 than in 2011 but down slightly from 2019 numbers.
Zack also said Asheville’s homicide rate has stayed relatively flat compared to that of other large metropolitan areas, which saw an increase of about 32% from 2019 to 2020. He noted that five people had been killed in Asheville to date in 2021, including one person who was killed the night before the presentation.
“Despite our current staffing shortages, APD is still very aggressively developing and working on strategies to address violent crime and other types of crime,” he said.