Tuesday’s City Council meeting began with a “point of order” raised by Christopher Chiaramonte immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance. Chiaramonte asked why prayer was no longer included at the beginning of Council meetings — a question he has raised to Council in the past during public comment.
Chiaramonte alleged that Mayor Esther Manheimer told Council members that prayer was not allowed in City Hall, which, he said, was why Council meetings no longer opened with prayer.
“I did not say prayer would not be allowed,” Manheimer responded.
“You are not on the agenda, and now you can sit down so we can proceed with the agenda,” she told him after further protests and a request to give a prayer himself. “If one of the City Council members would like to offer a prayer at the beginning of a meeting, they are more than welcome to do that.”
After the unexpected interruption the meeting proceeded.
Two proclamations were given this week: The first designated May 27, 2014 as “USS Asheville SSN 758” Day in honor of the Los Angeles-class submarine in the United States Navy. Crew members were on hand to receive the proclamation as well as give the mayor and Council members a few gifts of their own, including a flag, lapel pins and a commander’s cap.
The second proclamation officially designated June 2-8 as “Hemp History Week.”
The largest portion of the meeting, though, was dedicated to an overview of the city’s 2014-15 Operating Budget, presented by finance director Barbara Whitehorn.
The $147.5 million budget includes a 3 percent employee pay hike, funds for the Graffiti Clean-Up Initiative, Asheville Police Department improvements and upgrades to area public transportation that include a limited Sunday bus service. Set to begin January 2015, the Sunday service will rely on a $534,000 increase in transit funding.
The proposed budget also includes significant funding for the capital improvement plan that seeks for roadways, parks, sidewalks, greenways and more over the next five years. Whitehorn said the city spent $42 million in capital improvements over the past five years, but the plan for 2015-19 calls for more — $84.5 million from the city and more from other resources.
Whitehorn called the capital improvement plan “a huge leap forward for Asheville” with regards to investment to infrastructure and community.
A public hearing for the operating budget will be held Tuesday, June 10, at the regular City Council meeting, and formal adoption will follow at the next meeting on June 24.
Council also heard a presentation from Police Chief William Anderson on the Downtown Enhancement Plan, put into effect last year, helping reduce overall violent crime in the downtown area by 24 percent. Anderson plans to introduce a voluntary “Safe Cam Initiative” this year that would allow APD to access footage from private security cameras to help solve and prevent crime. Private business owners would not be required to participate in the voluntary program.
In other business, public hearings to close an unnamed alley off South Ann Street and a conditional zoning permit for a dental clinic on Deaverview Road ended in Council unanimously passing both.
Council members also unanimously adopted the findings of fact for the May 13 quasi-judicial hearing in which they upheld the Planning & Zoning commission’s approval of the Cambria Suites hotel project at 15 Page Ave. council’s vote makes the decision official.
City Council’s next meeting will be Tuesday, June 10, at 5 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.
Here’s Council “action agenda” — all actions as recorded by the city clerk: