Retired Asheville attorney Sidney Bach has been a fixture at City Council meetings and work sessions since the city first announced it was exploring a bond referendum last summer. Council eventually voted to place three bond issues on the Asheville ballot last November, totaling $74 million for transportation, affordable housing, and parks and recreation. Each of the bond issues passed with at least 70 percent of the vote.
In January, Bach and former Asheville Vice Mayor and commercial property owner Chris Peterson filed suit against the city, alleging that inconsistencies between the language used in City Council resolutions authorizing the bond referendum and the wording used on the actual election ballots invalidated the election results. On April 4, Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Greg Horne denied the city’s motion to dismiss the suit.
This month, attorney Albert Sneed, who represents Bach and Peterson, filed a motion to amend the January complaint. The July 14 motion contends that developments since the original filing strengthen the plaintiffs’ case against the city.
Specifically, the revised portion of the complaint quotes the state statute establishing the words municipalities must use to publish a bond order. According to NCGS 159-56, the required wording includes, “A tax will [may] be levied to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds if they are issued.” [emphasis added]
Asheville City Council voted on June 13 to approve the city budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The budget includes a 3.5-cent increase (above the revenue-neutral rate) per $100 in taxable property value, which is specifically designated to pay for principal and interest on the bonds.
But, asserts the lawsuit, the city of Asheville has stated it does not plan to issue any bonds for two years. Thus, the additional tax increase that will be levied this year is “contrary to the notice given to the public and is, therefore, illegal,” since taxes may only be imposed if the bonds are issued.
Furthermore, Bach says, the city must obtain certification that its bonds aren’t the subject of pending litigation before a bank will issue the money. “So they can’t issue any bonds until this is resolved,” he claims.
A hearing on the motion to amend the suit has been set for Tuesday, Aug. 1, at 2 p.m. in Buncombe County Superior Court.
According to Keith Miller, interim director of the Buncombe County Tax Department, tax notices for all property owners in Buncombe County will be mailed around Aug. 10. Taxes are due by Sept. 1; tax bills unpaid after Jan. 5, will begin to accrue interest charges, Miller says.
City spokesperson Polly McDaniel says no member of the city’s staff will have comment on the matter while the legal case is pending.