City budget and policing on tap for May 9 session of Asheville Council

Seal_of_Asheville,_North_Carolina

At 170 pages, Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 is an impressive tome that covers city operations from basic functions like public safety and trash removal to niceties such as funding for nonprofits and a robust sustainability program.

The bottom line for city residential property owners is a proposed tax rate that’s four cents lower than last year. Despite the lower rate, however, most property owners are likely to face a higher tax bill in 2017 due to a revaluation that saw the overall value of Asheville real estate rise an average of 30 percent.

Given that increase in taxable value, the city of Asheville estimated its revenue-neutral tax rate — that is, the rate required to fund government services at the same level as last year — at 39.5 cents per $1,000 of taxable real estate value. The city manager arrived at his proposed tax rate of 43.5 cents by adding four cents to the revenue-neutral rate. Of the additional pennies, 3.5 will go toward servicing the debt on the city’s $74 million bond program, which was approved by voters in 2015. Another half penny will finance improvements in the city’s transit program.

Based on the proposed tax rate, as well as other revenue streams, the city’s operating budget will come in at $176 million, a $15 million increase over the current year’s budget, which runs through June 30.

Asheville City Council will hear a report on the proposed budget at its meeting on May 9, and will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 23.

Asheville policing

According to the budget document:

The Police Department budget includes the addition of a Downtown District, which will include 1 Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants, and 12 Police Officers funded for six months, along with accompanying uniforms and equipment, at a total budgeted amount of $567,000.

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper‘s request to add a new downtown district, which will cost about $1 million annually, didn’t receive approval in 2016-17, and it’s sparked mixed reactions this time around as well. While garnering the support of downtown business and property owners, the idea also generated opposition among groups that advocate for the homeless, minorities and other underrepresented members of the community. Some advocates asked City Council to use the funding requested by the chief for programs that benefit vulnerable populations.

Even as the chief sought to build support for her downtown district ask, the Buncombe County NAACP highlighted data it says show disparities in how the department polices white and black residents. The NAACP maintains that the department should address racial inequities before receiving funding to create a new unit.

At the May 9 meeting, the Police Department will present a response to an April 24 report to City Council by Ian Mance, an attorney with the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who provided the information at the request of the Buncombe County NAACP.

A written report provided by the APD disputes Mance’s conclusion that the department failed to comply with state laws that require the department to report data on its traffic stops.  The report also argues that the department is taking appropriate steps to reduce racial inequities in its policing, making the four policy changes recommended by Mance redundant or unnecessary.

In its conclusion, the report states:

The APD welcomes the opportunity to examine its practices and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with our goal of addressing crime, violence, and quality of life issues through modern, evidence based strategies integrated with the principles of community policing. The history of disparate and racist treatment of African Americans, including in our own community, must be acknowledged. Reports such as the one presented by Mr. Mance bring examples of this to light that can be specifically addressed and corrected. APD will accomplish this by minimizing the financial impact of regulatory and equipment violations through the issuance of warnings in lieu of citations, requiring body worn camera recordings of all vehicle searches, continuing monthly compliance audits and conducting quarterly audits of opendatapolicing.com data.

In an April 25 email to City Council, Jackson reported that Hooper was scheduled to be out of town on May 9, the date of the Council meeting for which the APD response to Mance’s report had been requested by Council.

Food policy

Council will also hear an update on the Food Policy Action Plan, which will include a status report on ongoing efforts to update the plan. In addition, city Sustainability Director Amber Weaver will outline the new Asheville Edibles program, which includes processes for community gardens, Adopt-A-Spot and large agriculture leases.

Public hearings

Council will hold a public hearing on Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Act funding awards. A staff report explains:

“The City’s Housing and Community Development Committee has made recommendations for the use of CDBG funds, which must be used in housing or community development programs in Asheville, and the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium has recommended uses for the HOME funds, which must be used for housing programs within the four-county Consortium area (Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Transylvania counties).”

The CDBG fund allocation recommendations are:

Graphic provided by the city of Asheville
Graphic provided by the city of Asheville

The HOME fund allocation recommendations are:

Graphic provided by the city of Asheville
Graphic provided by the city of Asheville

Council will also hold a public hearing on a zoning request to allow for the expansion of and upgrades to a waste transfer station owned by Buncombe County at 190 Hominy Creek Road. Council’s approval is required because a waste transfer station is not a use permitted in this location under current Institutional zoning. Thus, an expansion of a non-conforming use requires conditional zoning approval.

The expansion will include a new 19,000-square-foot building, which will be about 7 feet taller than the existing building. A new sidewalk will be added along the site’s road frontage.

As part of its zoning application, Buncombe County has requested relief from some parking lot landscaping requirements. A staff report explains: “Parking lot landscaping is required to be within 15 feet of the vehicle use area, making it difficult to meet as this site has severe restrictions on planting on top of the landfill. Shrubs, however, can be planted around the vehicular use areas.”

Because of the isolated location of the site and the uniqueness of its function for the community, staff recommends that Council approve the zoning request.

Proclamations

Council will recognize City of Asheville Youth Leadership Program participants and city employees. The officials will also proclaim:

  • May “Motorcycle Awareness Month”
  • May 19, 2017, “Endangered Species Day”
  • May 21-27, 2017, “National Public Works 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.

For more of the latest city and county news check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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