“We have heard you.”
Citing a wave of public comment calling on Asheville officials to “defund the Asheville Police Department,” City Manager Debra Campbell announced a major change to the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget process during City Council’s meeting of June 9. Instead of voting on her proposed budget on Tuesday, June 23, as originally planned, Council will now consider an interim budget on that date. The move is meant to bridge the gap before a new budget can be reworked with additional community engagement.
“This is a citywide community issue that we all have to be a part of,” Campbell said. “It’s going to take collaboration with every segment of our community in order to address the issues of social disparities and inequities.”
In advance of the June 9 meeting, Council received 1,382 voicemail messages and 1,643 email messages. The vast majority demanded less money for the APD and greater police accountability, Campbell said.
North Carolina municipalities are legally required to adopt a budget by July 1, but the law allows for the adoption of an interim budget “for the purpose of paying salaries, debt service payments, and the usual ordinary expenses of the local government or public authority for the interval between the beginning of the budget year and the adoption of the budget ordinance.” A public hearing for the new budget developed with further community input is currently slated for Tuesday, Aug. 25, with Council to vote on the final budget Tuesday, Sept. 8.
The delay will also allow Asheville to make more informed calculations about sales tax revenue, which has fallen significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Campbell explained. “This will give us a little bit more time to see where we are from an economic perspective and revenue perspective,” she said.
Brian Haynes was the only Council member to explicitly address the budget change, calling for the defunding of the APD to “begin now.” He noted that the police were currently slated to receive a budget increase; that money would mostly be used to pay for fleet maintenance and state-mandated retirement contributions.
“As part of this budget, and we continue and continue into the next, we need to not only deny the $400,000 increase being requested but seek much deeper cuts, reallocating funds towards programs providing opportunity to the black community and poverty remediation,” he said.
No public hearing will take place regarding the adoption of the interim budget, said City Attorney Brad Branham. “Interim budgets are really just a series of interim appropriations to spend on normal course of business matters,” he explained in an email exchange with Xpress. “This falls outside the statutory requirement of a public hearing. Therefore, no public hearing is required until the annual budget ordinance comes before the Council.”
Asheville last adopted an interim budget in 2002 because of state withholdings in local reimbursements that had the potential to impact tax rates. At the time, Council passed a two-month interim budget until all payments had been settled and a tax rate could be calculated.