Asheville City Council

They’re the bane of many city residents: drivers who ignore the posted speed limits on Asheville’s residential streets. But outside of more police enforcement, the methods used to slow speeders down often is too costly and too slow to come about because of a complicated and time-consuming process necessary to erect traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps and islands, Council member Brownie Newman told his colleagues during City Council’s Feb. 19 meeting.

To many obstacles: City Council wants to find easier and cheaper ways to slow traffic on residential streets — unlike this obstacle course encountered on Beechwood Road near the east Asheville Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Photo By Jonathan Welch

“If you go out and ask people throughout Asheville what is the single biggest concern in your neighborhood, many will say, ‘People driving too fast in our neighborhood,’” said Newman.

Without taking a formal vote, Council members unanimously agreed to have city Traffic Engineer Ken Putnam report back on March 18 concerning possible changes in Asheville’s approach to traffic calming. The city suspended its traffic-calming program in 2006 due to high costs (as much as $115,000 per mile), though private developers have continued to fund various traffic-calming measures in their projects.

The key to resurrecting the program, Newman maintained, is considering less-expensive, low-tech alternatives such as speed humps or maybe even simple paint patterns, as well as streamlining the bureaucracy. In the past, residents had to wade through a complex and time-consuming 11-step process.

Only Council member Carl Mumpower disagreed, saying he opposes traffic-calming devices in general because they tend to exacerbate problems on surrounding streets. Mumpower added that Putnam’s report should also take a close look at how well police are enforcing posted speed limits.

“I have questions about putting obstacles in our streets,” said Mumpower. And safety concerns aside, he noted, many residents haven’t been happy with the devices that have been installed. Referring to the neighborhood adjacent to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in east Asheville. “They asked for traffic calming and, boy, they really got it,” said Mumpower. He also fretted that some areas, such as north Asheville’s tony Kimberly Avenue (which had been targeted for traffic calming), would take precedence over other streets.

“I hope we don’t indulge this neighborhood,” said Mumpower, adding that “it could bleed the traffic problem off to other neighborhoods.” The residential thoroughfare carries about 8,000 car trips per day, said Putnam.

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by Brian Postelle

The Greek Festival, Organicfest, Shindig on the Green, Rockin’ River Raft Race … these events (as well as many lesser-known ones) have something in common: They all rely on some sort of financial support from the city. And not only those: 12 festivals, 16 run/walks, plus assorted concerts and other performances are also on the seemingly ever-expanding list of events that the city co-sponsors.

Pickin’ a winner: Shindig on the Green is one of the more popular city-sponsored events. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Roderick Simmons says that up till now, getting the city involved in an event has been relatively easy. And the costs to the city can include things like police and other staff overtime, as well as lost revenue due to waived permitting fees.

But city staff is worried that it may be a case of too many pigs at the trough. And when Simmons announced that the total lost revenue for 2008 could approach the quarter-million-dollar mark, Council found it hard to argue with that assessment.

Since taking the helm last April, Simmons has changed the way his department evaluates the total cost to the city of such co-sponsorships, including a wider range of expenses. That has resulted in a total figure nearly 3.5 times the amount reported in 2007.

But the biggest problem currently, says Simmons, is that Council doesn’t budget the co-sponsorships ahead of time. Instead, they build up over the course of the year, leaving his department scrambling to find the money.

“We’ve been pretty much absorbing it,” Simmons notes.

So, after getting approval for co-sponsorships through July—for events coming up too fast to break the existing commitments—Simmons plans to do a more in-depth cost/benefit analysis of the rest. And if Council approves an up-front amount of money for the 2008-09 fiscal year, he says he wants to make sure that newer, smaller events don’t get squeezed out.

For instance, a blanket $100,000 allocation would allow room for only a few well-established events. But a little adjustment here and there could make room for additional lower-maintenance events, he explains.

“Your block party is pitted against my parade. We want to come up with a system that compares apples to apples,” says Simmons. “Maybe all some of them need is a permit.”

Events are already scored according to their community appeal and economic impact, he notes, but those scores don’t carry any relevance in the decision-making process. Simmons wants to create a matrix to help Council determine not only what the overall budget for co-sponsorships should be, but which events make good sense to get involved with. He also wants a way to factor in an event’s performance from one year to the next, so they can be held accountable for the turnout they say they’ll attract.

Simmons is slated to return to Council with his new system in about eight weeks. In the meantime, he declined to speculate on specific budget figures or on which events may not make the cut.

 

“We’re a valley surrounded by mountains,” countered Mumpower, adding that Kimberly residents must realize their street has become an important north/south thoroughfare.

Newman, meanwhile, argued that making the process cheaper and easier would enable more streets to receive calming devices.

Too much fun

Mumpower was also odd man out on the next agenda item: the in-kind support the city provides for a slew of co-sponsored events. On a 6-1 vote with Mumpower opposed, Council agreed to continue the city’s support through the end of July. After hearing a report from Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Roderick Simmons, however, Council members balked at making more such commitments after that—at least until Simmons can provide more detailed information about both the costs and financial return to the city. Simmons said he could provide full details to Council in eight weeks. He said his department is developing an accounting matrix that will, for the first time, give Council a complete picture of the costs per event for things like police, fire and sanitation services, as well as other expenses absorbed by the city (see sidebar, “Brought to You by Our Sponsor”).

Several Council members emphasized that they don’t want event organizers to think the city isn’t willing to help. But they were alarmed by the fact that the Oasis Shrine Parade planned for this November, for example, is projected to cost the city more than $44,000. Council members also asked organizers to help by scaling back their events or finding other ways to reduce the cost to taxpayers.

Mumpower proposed that the city suspend all such support until the costs could be determined—and until more pressing issues, such as law enforcement, are addressed. “I will not support any more co-sponsorships until we eliminate our open-air drug markets,” he declared.

Simmons said the city could expect to spend almost $250,000 in 2008 if it approved its co-sponsorship of 34 events. And since many of them occur several times during the year, it amounts to a total of 101 occurrences, he reported. The actual dollar amount, noted Simmons, is far beyond the $72,000 figure presented to Council last year. Much of the increase is due to a fuller accounting of in-kind support and lost revenue due to waived fees on facilities, permits, water usage and so on. In addition, the city has seen an increase in the number of requests for co-sponsorship. In 2007, for example, there were just 46 co-sponsorship occurrences.

“If this program continues to grow at this rate, the city of Asheville risks a significant drain on limited resources, which could result in inadequate service to the city and to the co-sponsor applicants,” Simmons warned. “Additionally, the current process of co-sponsorship approvals coming at the start of the calendar year does not give other city departments who support these events adequate time to plan their budget for these events.”

Some Council members expressed astonishment at the costs Simmons cited. And none more so than Mumpower, who called it an “obscene” misuse of taxpayer money. “It’s simply hard to argue for a quarter-million dollars,” he said.

Following the money

On a brighter note, Chief Financial Officer Ben Durant told Council members that “Asheville is living within its means.” Based on what he termed “very conservative” estimates, the city should end the fiscal year on June 30 with $960,000 more in revenue than was originally budgeted. Meanwhile, expenses are projected to be $40,000 less than what was budgeted. And though the city’s fund balance—a reserve fund to deal with special occurrences and projects—will decrease by $5.32 million to $16.5 million, that’s still well within the parameters set by the city. The minimum fund balance is 15 percent of expenditures, and Durant said he projects this year’s fund balance to wind up at 18.1 percent.

Nonetheless, he noted, those figures are not as positive as what the city has seen in recent years. The financial picture would be even rosier if it weren’t for ballooning health-care costs, which are 13 to 15 percent higher than last year.

Mumpower criticized the dwindling fund balance, noting that the money has been spent on several one-time projects and capital expenditures, including maintenance projects deferred in prior years. The city, he said, is doing a poor job of managing its money, adding that deferred maintenance typically only leads to higher costs down the road. In fiscal year 2005-06, noted Mumpower, the city’s fund balance was more than 30 percent.

“We’ve shaved about 12 percent in two years,” he told Durant. “I would suggest we’re living incrementally beyond our means. … We’re whittling away our savings. … I don’t think it reflects well on this Council and previous Councils.”

But that didn’t sit well with some of his colleagues. Council member Holly Jones reminded Mumpower that the city had passed a balanced budget and was projected to come in nearly $1 million under. “I think we’re being prudent,” she said. “I take great issue at any darts being thrown at [our] management.”

Other business

Council members did find consensus on another issue, however, unanimously agreeing to present a united front on annexation when the issue is discussed in an upcoming public hearing. Slated for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19 (location not yet determined), the Asheville meeting is one of a series being held by the N.C. House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation to discuss possible changes in the state’s annexation rules. Rep. Bruce Goforth of Asheville, who chairs the committee, has already held one meeting on the issue.

City Council has argued that it should have the ability to make annexation a condition for access to its water system, saying it will send as many members to the meeting as possible to protest what it considers unfair treatment of Asheville.

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12 thoughts on “Asheville City Council

  1. Dave Spicer

    So Mumpower doesn’t like traffic calming “bleeding the traffic problem off to other neighborhoods”. Doesn’t he realize that’s exactly what drug enforcement also does? Both actions make the targeted area less attractive to the bad guys. That’s the point! How can he be for one but not the other?

  2. zen

    The key to resurrecting the program, Newman maintained, is considering less-expensive, low-tech alternatives such as speed humps or maybe even simple paint patterns, as well as streamlining the bureaucracy. In the past, residents had to wade through a complex and time-consuming 11-step process. (emphasis mine)

    I’ve had to struggle thru this horrid process of getting signatures and writing up problems and potential solutions while then turning the solution over to the traffic calmers to decide if your backstreet warrants even being looked into and then making their changes (if any) without returning to consult the originator of the request. Very frustrating.

    Mumpower is right in that some residents have been unhappy with the traffic-calming solutions, but that’s not a reason to stop the process.

  3. Asheville Native

    What logic is Mumpy using to assume that if drivers slow down in one neighborhood, they’ll speed through another? Mumps always wants to pick on the housing project dope dealers; I would love to hear what he’s prepared to do about more clandestine “white collar” dope dealers and do’ers that exist in middle and upper class communities…our attorneys, MD’s, banker’s and other so called white collar neighbors who like to indulge in illegal drugs? What’s your plan there? It’s easy to target he “open-air” dealers, they’re there for the picking. C’mon smart guy what’s your plan?

  4. We live on a road that once connected Haywood Rd to 240. They fixed that, but the traffic still lingers and once they see Haywood Rd in their sight they lay on the gas (which is near my house).

    We do one thing that seems to have an effect. When I drive the length of my road, and someone comes up behind me, I start to drive 10 miles SLOWER than the speed limit, which is 25 mph. It’s a fairly long road, so by the time that I turn into my driveway, these people are plenty pissed. Dozens of my neighbors do the same and I think that it has sent a message to use the roads that can handle higher traffic.

  5. lunchbox

    The power is in the people….not our elected leaders. They can argue about costs all day long and you can spend your time getting petitions signed. They are both viable means to an end, but it is so wrapped up in politicking that the red tape will cause a slow down.

    I am a single guy, but I live in a neighborhood in west Asheville with more children than adults per capita. Honestly.

    I love kids, that is the best part, but I can neglect their safety easily on the way home from a long day at work. I have found myself inadvertantly speeding on my own road quite a few times, the thing that stopped me from doing that too often?

    The power of the people.

    A simple sign, bought buy a concerned parent for less than twenty dollars.

    SLOW: CHILDREN PLAYING.

    I see that sign and I think; oh yeah work sucked today but there are kids, like my nephew, out playing right now because they just got out of school like I used to back in the day.

    With that, I go as slow as possible, and I try to see if I can enjoy the sight of some kids playing soccer or kickball, or a mother pushing her newborn down the road. These are the things that will keep asheville a small connected town.

    Sign those petitions, try to invoke structural change for the safety of you and your neighbors.
    Never Forget though, that if you want to change something , you have to take physical action.

    There are situations where people in other parts of this great country have taken pictures of their kids playing ball, then gotten those pictures blown up to life size. They place those pictures on the side of the road and guess what? Their neighbors slow the fuck down!

    The power is in the people, and we are the people. Do not think that we stop being the base of power simply because we have elected someone to represent us. Everyday that you wake up you are the reason that your elected official exists, not vice versa. Talk to your neighbors, they will probably help you solve your problems, and even the single guys in your neighborhood will respect it.

  6. lunchbox

    Oh by the way Pisssing people off = making people angry. In the world we live in today do we really need to make more people angry. If you want to take a stand and confront the issue, then stop your car, introduce yourself and ask the other driver to slow down. Don’t pull the “I’m tough because he will never know who I am and then drive off angry routine”, because then the driver will just speed off into someone elses neighborhood.

    Confront the issue, don’t aggrevate it then claim heroism.

    PS sorry for all the gramatical errors.

  7. Jimbo

    So is the complete mess the city budget is in of interest to anyone, or is it all about cramming something in the road in front of your house?

    This paper and others parrot the nonsense uttered by the city’s CFO about the city spending within its means, while at the same time completely missing the fact that their reporting the city spent $5.32 million from savings in the same sentence!!?? Wake up people.

    They say they’re spending $40,000 less than what was budgeted, but their robbing our tax dollars saved for a rainy day by almost 5 and a half million in one year. Most of these expenses are new pet projects for individual council members that are adding long term expenses that won’t go away.

    They’re also adding personal assitants for every one of these pet projects that will continue to be paid each year. If this is costing 5.3 mil to pay for just this year, how the heck are they supposed to pay for it all next year? Council is already talking about cutting employee’s benefits and changing healthcare because of rising employee costs, while out the other side of their mouth they blow money on happy joy joy initiatives.

    The problem is this council keeps adding senseless staff positions to meet their political agendas, leaving critical lower paying positions unfilled, letting facilities crumble and passing on the expense to an already stretched too thin city staff and overburdened tax payers.

    Ask the people in critical service areas that get paid the least at the city how many vacancies they’re filling in for. Then ask council how many new positions they have had created and filled in the last year while other existing spots remain vacant. It’s a house of cards, and we’re all going to pay to clean up the mess.

  8. “Oh by the way Pisssing people off = making people angry. In the world we live in today do we really need to make more people angry. If you want to take a stand and confront the issue, then stop your car, introduce yourself and ask the other driver to slow down.”

    Come on now, you know that this behavior doesn’t work. The two times in my life that I stepped out of my car to talk to someone else they both sped away.

    Signs of children work to a point. The speeding motorist MIGHT slow down the first time that they see it, but after driving by a few times they will be used to that sign and ignore what it says.

    Driving slow through a neighborhood works. If a speeder is caught behind someone driving under the speed limit enough times they will think twice about using that neighborhood as a cut through in the future.

    We also have a hedgehog that we throw out in the road some nights. Works pretty well too.

  9. Alan Ditmore

    The long, 25 mph speed bumbs are useful and I believe relatively cheap, but the islands and mazelike curbs are both wasteful and slow traffic by adding danger, the wrong way to do it.
    I would like to see a power limit, perhaps 50hp, like NASCAR restrictor plates, for vehicles registered in Asheville, including light trucks.

  10. Alan Ditmore

    However, I oppose all of the spending items because they are not contraception.

  11. lumina

    keep in mind that speed bumps and turnabouts slow emergency vehicles as well and may end up costing a life …

    and this little gem:

    “Mumpower criticized the dwindling fund balance, noting that the money has been spent on several one-time projects and capital expenditures, including maintenance projects deferred in prior years. The city, he said, is doing a poor job of managing its money, adding that deferred maintenance typically only leads to higher costs down the road. In fiscal year 2005-06, noted Mumpower, the city’s fund balance was more than 30 percent.”

    IS HUGE!

  12. nuvue

    Could somebody fill me in on any positive aspects of Mumpower?
    It seems he is against most anything. He didn’t like the bike lane thing….how unpatriotic of him.
    What does he like?
    What positive bills has he introduced?
    Does he like the Magnolia downtown? or would he rather use it for firewood?
    Just wondering, I only know him thru these blogs and the council updates…..

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