For now, the work sessions and haggling are over. Interim City Manager Cathy Ball will present the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19 to Asheville City Council and the public at Council’s regular meeting in Council Chambers at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15.
The document reflects Council’s consensus on issues such as parking policy, staff compensation and the property tax rate, which will not increase this year. In total, the budget accounts for $180 million in spending, with $124 million of that coming from the city’s general fund, which is fueled by property tax revenue.
In her letter introducing the budget, Ball noted that Asheville’s position as a desirable place to live and popular tourist destination creates unique challenges for the city. “While the popularity of our city pushes property values higher and brings more visitors every year, the inelasticity of the majority of the city’s revenue streams means that while growth is driving higher costs, revenues are not increasing at the same pace,” she wrote.
Perhaps the most visible of the city’s attempts to raise funds is a set of proposed changes to parking fees, which would be adopted on July 1. Instead of providing the first hour of parking at city garages for free to all, the city would only waive the fee for patrons who exit within an hour. The daily parking minimum would increase from $10 to $12, and monthly garage rates would also increase by $10. Together, these changes have the potential to increase revenue by an estimated $960,000 per year.
The expense side of the budget includes funding for 15 new city staff positions. The largest change is in the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion: Kimberlee Archie, equity and inclusion manager, will grow her office by three new staff members at a cost of approximately $250,000. An additional transportation planner will also be hired to help expand staff capacity for addressing public transit issues.
The Asheville Police Department will see its budget increased by $2 million, including $466,000 to fully fund the 15 officers added last year as part of implementing the new downtown district. This dedicated unit, Ball explains, will improve police response times in downtown, the South Slope and the River Arts District while reducing overtime pay for existing officers.
After this meeting’s presentation, residents will have a week to consider their responses before the budget’s public hearing on Tuesday, May 22. Council’s vote to formally adopt the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 19.
Progress on policing
As part of its unfinished business, Council will review a city staff progress memorandum about making APD data available online, which it ordered in response to a presentation by Patrick Conant of nonprofit civic technology advocacy Code for Asheville. At Council’s April 24 meeting, Conant shared his group’s Petition for Police Accountability Through Data Transparency, which currently has nearly 1,000 signatures and 30 organizational endorsements.
In the memo, Ball wrote that the city is planning to release crime reports, some traffic stop data, police policies and city employee demographics on Asheville’s Open Data Portal. However, she adds that the release of citation and arrest data, emergency call data, citizen complaints and use-of-force information will require additional review by staff and key stakeholders.
On May 14, Conant posted an open letter criticizing several aspects of the memo. He noted that staff did not consider many of the data sets requested in the petition, including internal body camera audits and recordings of committee meetings, and expressed concern about the proposed data release process. “This process provides staff with broad new powers that will actually make it more difficult for data sets to be released as Open Data,” he wrote.
In new business, Council will consider a resolution to dissolve the Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee. Sarah Terwilliger, deputy city clerk, explained in a staff report that the group’s role will be superceded by the newly formed Human Relations Commission. Terwilliger also wrote that the APD’s new community liaison program and continued engagement with neighborhood groups are working to improve relationships between residents and police.
A presentation and financial update on Asheville’s $74 million bond issue from 2016 will give a longer-term perspective on the city’s budget approach. Documents for the update note that nearly $28.5 million in projects are currently in the planning phase, including park land acquisition and road surfacing. Approximately $12.4 million has been allocated to projects in the site planning and design phase, while roughly $7.5 million has been assigned to projects under construction.
Council will also hear a presentation on the search for its new city manager, which kicked off on May 10 with community engagement meetings and the opening of an online survey. While city staff are using an executive search firm to assist in the search, interim Assistant City Manager Peggy Rowe notes that the search includes many opportunities for residents to share their values for the new hire.
City Council will also consider items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a single package. In brief, they include:
- A resolution approving the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville to issue up to $12,500,000 in multifamily housing revenue bonds to provide financing for acquiring and renovating Ledgewood Village Apartments, located at 15 Future Drive. Heather Dillashaw, community development director, notes that this financing plan will not require city investment and should improve the residential tax base.
- A resolution authorizing city staff to pursue and negotiate debt financing for capital projects, including the issuance of interim Limited Obligation Bonds of up to $48,000,000. A public hearing on this issue will be held on Tuesday, May 22.
- Resolutions authorizing the mayor to increase water sales to Black Mountain and transfer ownership of the city’s water infrastructure within the Black Mountain service area to the town’s government. David Melton, interim water resources director, notes that transferring this infrastructure will cause a short-term loss of revenue but save significant maintenance and upgrade costs over the next 10-20 years.
- A resolution approving amendments to the Housing Trust Fund Policy, which include giving equal priority to rental and homeownership proposals, giving permanent affordability the highest priority and allowing awards outside of existing policy for project-unique features.
- A resolution and budget amendment of $157,500 to upgrade and renovate sport courts at Murphy-Oakley Park, Montford Park, Weaver Park and Malvern Hills Park.
Finally, the Council will issue the following proclamations to designate honorees for certain days, weeks and months:
- May 21-27 as National Public Works Week
- May as Building Safety Month
- May as Tick-Borne Disease Awareness Month
- June 1 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day
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.