Asheville City Council has big ideas: community reparations, better transit, stronger neighborhoods. But without higher property taxes on city residents, said City Manager Debra Campbell, those ideas won’t become reality.
“We just couldn’t make the numbers work without it,” Campbell said.
During a May 11 work session, Council members heard a presentation by city staff outlining how an effective tax hike of 3 cents per $100 of assessed value would help fund a list of priorities for fiscal year 2021-22. The proposed tax rate of 41.3 cents appears lower than the current rate of 42.89 cents, explained Director of Finance Tony McDowell. However, the median tax bill will still go up from $995 to $1,215 — more than 22% — due to the 27% increase in median property value for city residents assessed by this year’s Buncombe County revaluation.
Budget manager Taylor Floyd noted that not all of the $9.9 million in new funding requests would be paid for through the property tax increase, which is projected to raise $5.7 million beyond a revenue-neutral rate. The city would tap its reserves for a one-time $1.2 million allocation toward its yet-unsupported reparation fund. And $1.7 million in spending would be funded by money that would otherwise be earmarked for vacant positions in the Asheville Police Department.
“We currently have 67 sworn [officer] vacancies. Based on the hiring plan and the turnover rates, we know we can’t fill all those positions next year,” added McDowell. “So we wanted to utilize some of the savings from those vacant positions to do some other things within the Police Department budget and also within some of the other areas of reimaging public safety.”
Other proposed expenses include $7.9 million to boost compensation for city employees as recommended by a recent salary study, $1.1 million to extend bus service hours in line with phase one of the 2018 Transit Master Plan and roughly $1.1 million to fill some of 100 unspecified nonpolice positions currently under a hiring freeze.
Campbell will present a final budget recommendation during the next Council meeting on Tuesday, May 25. A public budget hearing follows on Tuesday, June 8, with the final budget vote scheduled for Tuesday, June 22.
In other news
During its regular meeting held later on May 11, Council voted to implement increases to fees and charges, including a 6% boost to water consumption fees for all users except wholesale customers. Base fees for water customers will also go up based on meter size, with larger meters paying more. Although the average residential user will pay about $2 less bimonthly than in fiscal year 2019-20, further increases are likely in coming years to recover lost revenue from the discontinued water capital fee.
Council members also voted to continue a public hearing to consider changes to homestay rules until May 25. The proposed zoning amendment would allow homestays to include components of a kitchen — a stove, full-size refrigerator or sink — which are currently banned in an effort to prevent long-term housing from being converted into short-term rentals. The new rules would also prohibit the use of detached accessory structures for homestays and require that nonresident property owners be listed as co-hosts on homestay applications.