After months of racial justice protests, thousands of public comments and a community input process for “reimagining” the Asheville Police Department, City Manager Debra Campbell has offered her response — and activists aren’t likely to be happy about it.
At its meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 22, Asheville City Council will vote on a budget amendment that would fund the APD at roughly $29.3 million, a reduction of $770,000 from the more than $30 million she first proposed for the department on May 26. That cut equates to just over 2.5% of the police budget; many activist groups, including Black AVL Demands, have called for a 50% reduction to the APD, with the money to be invested in community services.
In July, Council passed a budget with only three months of funding for city departments; members had agreed to revisit allocations for the remaining $105 million in the general fund budget after residents had a chance to share their ideas about public safety. That budget gave the APD more than $5.5 million to sustain operations through the end of September; an additional $2.4 million had been allocated to the department for July in an interim budget adopted June 23.
As outlined in Campbell’s proposal, no currently provided city services would be cut. Instead, the APD would reallocate six employees who currently handle animal control, communications and park patrols to other departments. Roughly $350,000 for community investments would be made available by not rehiring six vacant telecommunicator positions, as well as a one-time “salary savings from sworn police officer positions” that had resigned between July and September. (According to the Citizen-Times, 31 officers have resigned since June.)
The proposed changes are only the beginning, according to a Sept. 18 statement released by city staff. Priorities for the 2021-22 budget process include creating a rapid response team for mental health, drugs and alcohol, homeless and domestic violence calls; developing a new model for school resource officers to mentor students; ways to enhance safety in Housing Authority communities; and consolidating the county’s 911 emergency call center.
City Council expects further protests this weekend in advance of its decision, according to a statement issued soon after the budget amendment was posted to the city website. “We support the right to protest, we support speaking out against economic and racial injustice, and we discourage the disruption of business,” the statement read. “Disrupting downtown businesses harms service workers and the many neighbors and friends who depend on those businesses. Please stay safe. We do not want anyone to get hurt.”
In other news
Council will consider a resolution approving a $1.1 million Housing Trust Fund loan to the Juna Group for the construction of 11 single family homes in Oakley. Each home will sell for roughly $275,000, a price calculated as affordable for residents making 100% of the area median income ($66,400 for a family of four).
Developer Al Clement purchased the 4.8 acre lot in 2017. Plans to build 19 affordable housing units on 2.6 acres were approved by the city of Asheville in June 2018; eight homes on the property, located on Shakedown Street off Broadview Street, are either complete or almost complete, according to a staff report available before the meeting. The remaining 1.1 acres of the property will be retained as equity for the loan.
And following discussion at Council’s Sept. 9 meeting, members are expected to approve a five-month extension of the city’s moratorium on approving new hotel developments. According to a staff report available before the meeting, COVID-19 had delayed opportunities for community engagement around the creation of new rules for hotels, pushing back the original schedule.
Listed by city as a con for the extension: “No new hotels will be approved during the moratorium extension period.”
Consent agenda and public comment
The consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A change order authorizing an additional $700,000 to CDM Smith for water system planning. According to a staff report available before the meeting, the city must pay to redesign a transmission line along Patton Avenue after its initial plan called for the line to run under the roadway, a violation of N.C. Department of Transportation policy.
- A roughly $525,000 contract with Hendersonville-based Carolina Specialties Construction to renovate a building for the Asheville Fire Department, located at 9 Miller Road. The renovations will provide living quarters for AFD firefighters, who currently use part of an adjacent building owned by the Skyland Fire Department when on duty.
- Renewal of a nearly $92,000 agreement with the Reems Creek Fire Department to fund operations in the Beaverdam Valley.
Council will also look a little different on Tuesday night. Antanette Mosley will be sworn in at the beginning of the meeting, filling the seat left vacant left by Vijay Kapoor. Mosley will serve through 2022.
The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link. Due to COVID-19, Council will meet remotely, and the meeting will be livestreamed through Asheville’s Public Engagement Hub.
Members of the public who wish to speak during the meeting must sign up in advance at this link or call 828-259-5900 no later than noon on Monday, Sept. 21. City staff will then use the list of registered speakers to manage the speaker queue during the meeting.
Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 8330; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilSept222020@PublicInput.com. Emails will be accepted for 24 hours after each public hearing.
With additional reporting by Daniel Walton
Updated on Sept. 21 at 11:30 a.m. with information from the city of Asheville on 2021-22 budget priorities and information from the public engagement session summary reports.