Business improvement district passes first round of voting

BEYOND THE BID: In addition to voting on a business improvement district, Asheville City Council also heard from the public on a variety of topics, including the future of the Malvern Hills pool. Pictured here is Brooke Heaton. Screenshot courtesy of the City of Asheville

Despite some concerns from the public, a proposed downtown business improvement district passed the first of two rounds in a 5-1 Asheville City Council vote. Council member Kim Roney opposed the proposal; Council member Sheneika Smith was absent. The vote defined the boundaries of the district and set a tax rate, but a second vote is required to establish the BID. 

“I do believe that downtown should have a BID,” said Council member Sage Turner. “But it is how it is managed and by whom that I have concerns lingering.” 

Some community members are also uneasy about the proposed BID. Six people spoke against the proposal during public comment, including Hannah Gibbons who presented a petition with over 900 signatures opposing the BID. The online petition was created after a public hearing in April

“The BID perpetuates valuing commercial land owners and the rich over the majority of Asheville constituents,” said downtown artist Rachel Stark. “It is by and for the elites, governed by an unelected board.” 

Council member Maggie Ullman recommended creating a resolution before the second vote on Tuesday, June 11, to provide more detailed direction on the operation of the BID. The resolution, which would be voted on at the same time as the final vote to approve the BID, would not be legally binding and is not required for BID approval. Council members described the resolution as a self-imposed set of written guidelines that would be included in the request for proposals used to hire an operator for the BID.

Suggestions for the resolution floated during the meeting include requiring a balance of renters and property owners on the 15-member board that would govern the BID, reserving one seat on that board for someone from the city’s Continuum of Care program, an open application process for board members and specific training requirements for downtown safety and hospitality ambassadors

“We do need to give some direction to staff about what to include in an RFP,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer. “And since we sometimes have a difference of opinion amongst ourselves, a resolution is a nice clear way for us to communicate to staff what we would like to see included.”

In opposing the BID, Roney said it was not the right tool to address the safety and cleanliness of downtown. She said resources that would be used to create a BID and hire a contractor to manage it would be better used funding programs that address the root causes of behavioral health, substance abuse and homelessness. 

The solution to improve safety downtown, said Roney, would be to expand community paramedicine with behavioral health and peer support specialists. To improve downtown cleanliness she suggested living wages for city workers and sanitation staff.

“I share the concern of needing to be approaching root cause solutions, and we are,” responded Ullman. “We’re doing a lot of work to address this, and I think that a BID can address other goals at the same time that go above and beyond public safety.”

GO bonds could save Malvern Hills Pool

During a presentation of the 2024-25 budget, Council members supported the use of funds from a general obligation bond to rebuild the Malvern Hills pool.  

In February, the city announced that the pool would not reopen due to needed repairs that would likely uncover additional problems. Neighbors organized to advocate for the city to rebuild the pool.

At the May 14 meeting, a group attended wearing blue T-shirts in support of rebuilding the Malvern Hills pool. Turner sought support for a proposal to increase the bond amount by $3 million for the pool’s repairs. 

Manheimer and Council member Antanette Mosley suggested reallocating some bond funds from housing to Asheville Parks & Recreation to cover the cost of the Malvern Hills pool rather than increasing the bond amount. The current bond proposal divides the money among housing, transportation, Parks & Recreation and public safety. 

“We struggled to spend all of our housing money because cities leveraging funds for affordable housing is very challenging,” said Manheimer. “I would be interested in putting more into Parks & Rec and more into safety, [and] less into housing where we don’t seem to be able to make as big a difference.” 

Mosley added that the city already has a steady allocation of money flowing into the Housing Trust Fund every year.

The first of two $75 million bond referendums will be on the ballot in November after a series of three Council votes over the next two months. An additional $3 million to the bond amount would raise the estimated property tax increase from 2.4 cents to 2.5 cents.  

Facing a sales tax shortfall, Council opted to use some of the city’s general fund balance to cover payroll this year instead of increasing the property tax rate, a decision that Council members have noted is unsustainable

“We will have to raise property taxes next year,” Manheimer said.

The bonds would be part of that increase because they are funded by property taxes.

Between the bond increase, an increase to cover the use of savings this year and a potential increase at the county level, Manheimer estimated that individuals could see their property taxes increase by as much as 10% in the next budget cycle. 

An itemized project list is not required for the ballot referendum, but the bond notice does need to include a general breakdown of how the funds will be used before a vote. Council plans to discuss the proposal more in depth at the next meeting on Tuesday, May 28.



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