As expected, City Council made short work of their agenda on July 5 — though at around 20 minutes in length, the meeting probably didn’t set the record for brevity. In passing its consent agenda unanimously, Council accomplished the main purpose for the meeting: keeping a proposed bond referendum on schedule for a possible appearance on the general election ballot in November.
One Asheville resident, retired attorney Sidney Bach, questioned three aspects of Council’s proposed bond package. First off, Bach cited a North Carolina statute that appears to require 10 days between the publication in local newspapers of the city’s intent to seek approval for its bond package from the Local Government Commission and submitting its application to that body. Council’s schedule, included in the resolutions it passed on Tuesday evening, showed publication on July 6 and making application to the LGC on July 7. City Finance Director Barbara Whitehorn said she would review the matter with the city’s bond attorney, Parker Poe. If the city delays making application to the LGC until July 18, she said, the city could still stay on track for including the measure on the general election ballot.
Second, Bach argued that Council needs to “publicly inform citizens of the estimated minimum and maximum increase in property taxes” that could be associated with the bond if it passes. At Council’s recent bond work sessions, several possible scenarios for property tax impact have been presented, but the question is also complicated by a Buncombe County tax revaluation which will take effect in January 2017.
Though Bach ran out of time and wasn’t able to deliver his third point to Council during the meeting, he spoke separately with the media and with several Council members after the meeting. He explained that he objects to bond financing being directed toward initiatives that could benefit private investors (in the form of low-interest loans) as part of possible affordable housing funding. Council member Julie Mayfield explained after the meeting that the city already pursues its affordable housing goals by making loans to private developers out of the city’s affordable housing trust fund, and that the proposed bond items follow the same procedures. Bach responded that, while he supports the development of affordable housing, he objects to the city contributing to the profits private investors stand to make on affordable housing projects.
Though subject to change, the referendum as it stands today includes $32 million for transportation, $25 million for affordable housing and $17 million for park improvements. With the passage of the bond-related items in its July 5 consent agenda, Council cleared the way for the next steps in the process:
- July 26: the bond orders will be introduced and Council will set a public hearing on the bond orders for August 9.
- August 9: Council will hold a public hearing on each of the bond orders, approve the bond orders (including the form and language of the ballot) and set a special bond referendum.
- After November 8, the City Council will adopt a resolution certifying and declaring the results of the special bond referendum. This action will occur after the Buncombe County Board of Elections certifies the results of the vote.