Mayor Esther Manheimer delivered the annual State of the City address Oct. 1, presenting a vision for driving growth in Asheville through community engagement and infrastructure investments.
In what she billed as a “TED-talk” style presentation, Manheimer guided attendees at the U.S. Cellular Center Banquet Hall through a PowerPoint that highlighted recent successes and future plans. “Over the last few years, we have been lucky to enjoy a robust economy and a low unemployment rate, but we still have challenges,” she said.
The economic growth has not increased tax revenues enough to keep pace with demands for services, Manheimer continued.
“If you consider the city as a business, there is a structural imbalance between growth in revenues and expenditures,” she explained. “And this is because the cost of doing business continues to rise, including employee compensation, healthcare, fuel, utilities and equipment.”
Manheimer also noted that Asheville faces unique challenges because the daytime population of workers commuting to the city from outside the city limits averages 43,000 a day. Add an influx of tourists and “that means we have a greater impact on our infrastructure than most [cities] experience,” she said. And Manheimer faulted leaders in the state legislature for changing business privilege tax rules in a way that will cut revenue by about $1.5 million a year.
With these challenges in mind, “building on our success” and ensuring “the city’s fiscal viability and sustainability in the future,” she said, will “require an innovative approach.”
Manheimer described the role of city government as providing “a framework, a strategy for realizing our citizens vision.”
That vision is coming to fruition in the River Arts District as the city invests millions in transportation improvements and private development grows at a fast pace, she said. That will help increase the city’s tax base, Manheimer said. A preliminary analysis shows that the ongoing redevelopment of underutilized property in the RAD will generate an “over 2,000 percent” increase in tax revenue, she said.
Classifying the RAD as well as the South Slope and Charlotte Street areas as special “innovation districts” would help facilitiate pedestrian infrastructure improvements and explosive private growth, said Manheimer.
She concluded by referencing a quote from the famous country singer, Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
“I really think it fits well for Asheville because we’re a unique city and we are finding out who we are, and we are doing it on purpose,” said Manheimer.