Budget balancing to present hard choices for City Council

Asheville City Hall (file photo)
Asheville City Hall (file photo)

Asheville City Council will pull a doubleheader on Tuesday, April 24, as it grapples with how to address a projected deficit of $2.2 million for the budget for fiscal year 2018-19, which begins on July 1. The Council begins at 3 p.m. with a budget work session in the First Floor North Conference Room of City Hall, then moves to its regular meeting in Council Chambers at 5 p.m.

In a memorandum distributed to Council before the work session, chief financial officer Barbara Whitehorn described city staff’s efforts to cut the deficit since the previous session on April 10. The biggest savings come from slashing the planned allocation to the Asheville Police Department for its incoming police academy classes: The staff now recommends $400,000 in funding, down from an initial proposal of $800,000. Approximately $100,000 in additional savings comes from negotiations with Buncombe County staff over the county’s fee for property tax billing services.

Whitehorn also presented Council with two options to make up the remaining budget gap of $1.7 million. The first reduces a planned raise for city employees from 3 percent to 2.5 percent, while the second maintains that raise but dips into the city’s fund balance for $600,000. Both options would eliminate the “first hour free” policy at city parking decks and increase monthly parking fees by $10 per month.

Notably, the memorandum did not offer any options involving property tax increases, as considered by Council member Vijay Kapoor in a statement on April 18. Mayor Esther Manheimer, as well as Council members Julie Mayfield and Sheneika Smith, have previously opposed such a move.

Shifting gears

The budget does not appear on the agenda for the Council’s regular meeting later on Tuesday afternoon. The city manager’s proposed budget will be formally presented to the Council on May 15, followed by a public hearing on May 22 and the budget adoption vote on June 19 . Instead, the main item of business will be a presentation by nonprofit civic technology group Code for Asheville on its “Petition for Police Accountability Through Data Transparency.

In response to public demands for transparency following the beating of Asheville resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush by former Asheville police officer Chris Hickman, Code for Asheville is proposing greater civilian access to Asheville Police Department information. The petition calls for APD to release use-of-force incident data, emergency call data, citation and arrest records, and citizen complaints, among other information, to the City of Asheville Open Data Portal.

As part of its unfinished business, the Council will also consider options for the Charlotte Street Improvements project. The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (which is made up of vice-mayor Gwen Wisler and Council members Julie Mayfield and Vijay Kapoor) is recommending the Council adopt one of two plans for the project, which aims to address transportation concerns on the section of Charlotte Street between Interstate 240 and Edwin Place.

The first option, “Road Diet Only,” would move the project forward by enhancing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Additions would likely include improved sidewalks, safer roadway crossings and bike lanes between sidewalks and traffic; to accommodate these changes, the street would be converted from four lanes of vehicle traffic to three lanes north of Chestnut Street. The second option, “Tactical Projects Approach,” would maintain existing vehicle traffic flow while making smaller-scale improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.

Consent agenda

City Council will also consider items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a single package. In brief, they include:

  • A budget amendment to accept a $25,779.10 reimbursement from the N.C. Dept. of Crime Control and Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management for the response of Hazardous Materials Regional Response Team 6 to Mountain Energy at 288 Lyman St. on Feb. 4. At least 1,000 gallons of petroleum fuel leaked into the French Broad River from one of Mountain Energy’s storage tanks, causing local health officials to warn the public to stay out of the river for the following week.
  • A resolution and budget amendment of $184,820 to fund the WNC Nature Center Red Panda Exhibit and Breeding Facility project. Of that total, $154,200 will be funded through a donation from the Friends of the Nature Center, while $30,620 will come from the city’s own pocket through the Parks and Recreation Department’s deferred maintenance account.
  • A motion to direct staff to negotiate a contract with an executive search firm for the position of city manager. Former city manager Gary Jackson was pushed out by unanimous decision of City Council on March 20 in the wake of the leaked publication of police body camera footage that showed a white Asheville Police officer beating a black city resident. Jackson had previously announced his decision to retire on Dec. 31. City staff will choose one of nine options for a consultant to conduct the search by the close of business on April 23.
  • A resolution in support of federal congressional action to adopt legislation for a carbon fee and dividend policy to address climate change. No specific existing legislation is mentioned in the resolution.
  • A resolution and budget amendment of $159,500 to upgrade and renovate sport courts at Murphy-Oakley Park, Montford Park, Weaver Park and Malvern Hills Park.
  • A motion to establish the Interstate 26 Connector Project Aesthetics committee. This group of six to 10 members would consider aspects of the project such as signage, bridge enhancements, retaining and/or noise walls, plantings and landscaping to make the connector “a cohesive and integrated part of Asheville.”

Proclamations

Finally, the Council will issue the following proclamations to designate honorees for certain days, weeks and months:

  • April 24 as Osogbo Day
  • April 26 as Stand Against Racism Day
  • May as National Preservation Month
  • May as Motorcycle Awareness Month
  • May 6-12 as National Drinking Water Week

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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2 thoughts on “Budget balancing to present hard choices for City Council

  1. Lulz

    Eventually you run out of other people’s money lulz. Especially when half the town pays none of it.

  2. jason

    Sell the “pit of despair”, no raises for employees this year, no more free parking on Sundays, and hire Wanda back…she’ll find some money!

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