Asheville City Council: A more aggressive approach?

  • Council begins annexation process, approves map for more possible annexations
  • City facing $1 million deficit this year, $5 million next year
  • Council asks for more information on art grant projects

Asheville may soon get bigger. At its Feb. 23 meeting, City Council voted 5-2 to start the process of annexing 12 properties. Most are small, and they're clustered to the south and northeast of the city.

Council members also approved a map showing 33.1 additional square miles of adjacent property that Asheville might choose to annex in the future. Most of those areas, which lie to the south, west and east of the current city limits, probably won't end up being incorporated into Asheville, both staff and Council members emphasized. But declaring their intentions now (which they did on a 6-1 vote) will speed up the legal process if the city does decide to stake a claim on portions of them later.

Annexed? The Long Shoals Road Ingles, one of 12 properties the city has begun moves to annex.

The Sullivan Acts, a series of state laws applying solely to Asheville, restrict the city's ability to annex outlying areas the way other North Carolina municipalities do. Specifically, these laws prohibit the city from making annexation a requirement for access to the water system. In the view of some on Council, this stifles the city's growth and limits its revenue.

"I'm opposed to forced annexation as a matter of principle, but as long as the Sullivan Acts are in place, we have limited options," said Council member Cecil Bothwell. "If you want this to change, it's an election year for our state delegation: They're the ones that can change this."

Indeed, in an earlier financial presentation, staff noted that the city's 3.5 percent growth in its tax base, fueled primarily by annexations, is one of the only factors offsetting the general economic slump.

Sullivan Acts aside, Asheville has historically taken a more cautious approach toward annexation than many other cities in the state, but that might be changing. When Vice Mayor Brownie Newman asked planner Blake Esselton why the plan states that "95 percent of these places won't be considered for annexation in the next two to four years," Esselton replied, "If Council were to decide to take a more aggressive approach, this would facilitate that."

Council member Jan Davis said that such a map is necessary "to be able to take advantage of opportunities. What if one of these areas does really develop in the next few years, and it becomes incumbent on the city to take it in?"

The 12 properties that Council did target for annexation are mostly small — in one case, merely a portion of a single Haw Creek home that's partly in the city and partly outside it — though the list also includes some commercial property. According to Esselton, the annexations are primarily intended to eliminate "doughnut holes" already surrounded by the city and to formally annex parts of larger properties to which the city already provides services.

Mayor Terry Bellamy, noting the substantial budget deficit the city is already facing next fiscal year, asked if these annexations would entail significant expenses. "It would seem to me that this would increase the need for a fire station in south Asheville," the mayor observed.

But Fire Chief Scott Burnette said he anticipates about 50 additional calls per year: an increase, but not a cause for deep concern.

Those assurances, however, didn't satisfy Bellamy, who voted against the proposed annexations (though she added that she might support the move when it comes before Council for final approval in May).

Meanwhile, some residents of the affected areas made no secret of their feelings about annexation.

"We have a large parcel of land, we use a septic tank, we're on a steep slope," said Arden resident June Patterson, adding that she doesn't vote for Council members, uses few city amenities and doesn't see why her property is included in the map of potential annexation areas. "I think this is a very undemocratic process," said Patterson.

And Betty Jackson, who helped lead a successful campaign to persuade Woodfin not to claim her neighborhood, argued that involuntary annexation is at odds with City Council's professed values.

"I'm dismayed a progressive city like Asheville is using a repressive tool like forced annexation," said Jackson. "I know you mean well, I know you have a difficult job, but encroaching on people like this is just wrong."

Despite opposition over the years from residents of targeted areas, most of Asheville's annexation attempts have succeeded. The same day as the Council meeting, in fact, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city in a lawsuit filed by Biltmore Lake residents unhappy about becoming part of Asheville.

The anti-annexation activists do appear to have at least one ally on Council, however, as Bill Russell noted his philosophical opposition to forced annexation.

"This is the first vote I've had on annexation, and I totally understand the city's position: It's terrible what the Legislature has done," said Russell. "But I'm personally against it, unless it's a voluntary annexation. On that principle, I'm voting against both these measures."

Council will hold a public information meeting Monday, April 12, before holding a final vote on the proposed annexations on May 11. If approved, the 12 properties would become part of the city by September.

Budget woes continue

If Asheville was hoping for some fiscal relief, it is not in the forecast. Due to declining sales-tax revenues, the city is facing a $1 million deficit this fiscal year (which ends June 30), and staffers are already projecting a $5 million deficit next year.

And if that weren't enough, the harsh winter has taken another $300,000 bite out of the budget, as the cost of cleaning up after the extensive storms in recent months has greatly exceeded what was allocated.

Next year's projected deficit stems from a variety of factors, including continuing flat revenues, vastly increased health-care costs and rising operating expenses due to inflation, Chief Financial Officer Ben Durant told Council.

"I've instructed city departments to draw up 4 to 8 percent cuts," he reported, noting that those cuts will mostly translate into increased workloads for city employees, not gaps in services that residents would notice.

Amid all the gloom, Durant added, some systems and revenue streams (such as parking, transit, water and storm-water services) are holding their own or even showing a profit. "On the positive side, the decline in revenues seems to be tapering off," he told Council. Nonetheless, in the coming year, "The balancing act for the city's budget is going to be challenging, to say the least."

Throughout this fiscal year, the city has made up some of the deficit by drawing on its fund balance, a reserve account meant for precisely such situations. But the latest withdrawal leaves the fund balance at just below 15 percent of the total budget, the level city policy recommends.

That news irked Bellamy, who said that despite the city's challenges, they needed to look for ways to restore the fund balance. Meanwhile, the $5 million deficit projected for next year assumes no further withdrawals from the fund balance.

Staff will give Council members more information at their March 9 meeting, along with options for addressing the situation. A preliminary vote on next year's budget is slated for May.

Other business

In other matters, Council:
• Decided to hold off on endorsing one of three ideas for a possible National Endowment for the Arts grant until more information was available. One proposal, from the Asheville Hub Project (and already matched by local donations), would use the grant to study the impact of artists on Asheville's economy and consider ways to attract and retain them. Another, which came out of the Downtown Master Plan, would aim to help local artists support themselves by connecting them with buyers. A third, put forward by the city's own Cultural Arts staff, would place additional public art outside downtown.

Bellamy and Davis voiced support for the Hub idea, which wouldn't cost the city any money. However, Council agreed to revisit the question on March 9, to allow time for getting better informed about the different proposals.
• Unanimously approved expanding an existing mixed-use development on Swannanoa River Road, from 125 units to 200. Most of the new units will be one-bedroom or studio apartments, and 20 will meet the city's affordable-housing guidelines.
• Appointed Holly Shriner and Mark Brooks to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Shriner's appointment has sparked some controversy; see "P&Z Appointment Questioned" elsewhere in this issue.

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31 thoughts on “Asheville City Council: A more aggressive approach?

  1. ?

    Oh city council your priorities are askew. If you lived in reality you’d realize how to make do. Stop with fluff and start to look around because soon and no tourist will be around. The artist you waste money on do nothing but sleep, while the people who work and pay have less to keep. Be wary of this for you’re town has peaked and the wealthy you want do come here anymore, don’t because of the freaks.

  2. Marq McIntosh

    This budget matter, Just one more reason why the committee have got to be joking when they are considering city employees to have health coverage for there homosexual partners. Next thing you will hear is I can move Joe into my residents and add him to my policy. Just another procedure to suck money from our budget. Its a shame our tax money cant by common sense.

  3. Politics Watcher

    Could someone explain why the Sullivan Acts apply only to Asheville? This sounds punitive. Could someone also please indicate which of our state legislative delegation live within the city limits? The legislative delegation seems to always put county resident’s interests over city residents. Do any of the county commissioners live within the city limits?

  4. Lance Ball

    I can understand why people don’t like forced annexation, but I’m curious about the Sullivan Acts. I think recall them coming under review not too long ago but don’t remember the outcome. It seems to me that if annexation of the outlying areas were a condition for access to the public water system then voluntary annexation might be more, umm voluntary. I’m sure there’s lots of history that I’m not aware of on this issue, but I am curious.

    Marq, I think that the budget is not part of the equation if you believe that the same-sex partner issue question of equal rights. I believe that all people should be treated equally by our city government, and that denying benefits based on sexual preference is discrimination. If there’s not money for a part of the employee base to have benefits, then we shouldn’t pick and choose who gets them and who doesn’t.

    What if, in the interest of saving money, council decided that black people shouldn’t get these healthcare benefits? I think there’d be a pretty widespread outcry. In my opinion, that is no different than discrimination based on who you are in a committed relationship with.

  5. Alan

    One reason I supported Bothwell was because he said the ONLY annexation he was interested in was the Biltmore Estate. Now it looks like he lied.
    Annexation is a major threat to same sex domestic partner benefits because it allows suburban social conservatives to vote in city elections. Thus a vote for annexation is a vote against SSDPB and those who voted for both are just paying lipservice to gay rights.

  6. Marq McIntosh

    Lance, I know in an equation there are more than two involved whether it be #’s or people, it still adds up to be more,as in more to cover and pay for in health forms. As far as equal rights, that policy could fall in a large category of lets insure the homeless or my sisters brothers child, it has nothing to do with sex or race. Its an incentive to get a job and take responsibility. If you choose to have insurance well then by golly go buy it like most of use do, stand on your own feet and step up to the plate. So I vote Mr. Ball to offer our Veterans and homeless and Mr. Bill, full benefits and to be sure to annex there paper boxes that they have to sleep in. Oh by the way I house several homeless and I will expect some health coverage as soon as this blunt bill passes. And don’t discriminate against us because we don’t sleep together.

  7. Marq McIntosh

    Lance, I know in an equation there are more than two involved whether it be #’s or people, it still adds up to be more,as in more to cover and pay for in health forms. As far as equal rights, that policy could fall in a large category of lets insure the homeless or my sisters brothers child, it has nothing to do with sex or race. Its an incentive to get a job and take responsibility. If you choose to have insurance well then by golly go buy it like most of use do, stand on your own feet and step up to the plate. So I vote Mr. Ball to offer our Veterans and homeless and Mr. Bill, full benefits and to be sure to annex there paper boxes that they have to sleep in. Oh by the way I house several homeless and I will expect some health coverage as soon as this blunt bill passes. And don’t discriminate against us because we don’t sleep together.

  8. Lance Ball

    Marq if Mr. Bill works for the city, and he and his homeless partner are in a legally recognized, committed relationship then they should get the same job benefits accorded to other employees of the same pay grade. The fact that Mr. Bill and his partner are homeless and gay doesn’t see relevant.

  9. hauntedheadnc

    [i]Could someone explain why the Sullivan Acts apply only to Asheville? This sounds punitive.[/i]

    If I recall correctly, it dates to the 1930’s, when there were several different municipal water systems maintained by different municipalities that were later absorbed into Asheville or dissolved altogether. Later, the city and county worked together to unify the water system, but thanks to the fact that some of these pipes were built by the county, some by other entities, and some by Asheville, the whole enchilada is considered the property of more than just the city of Asheville.

    What this means is that Asheville is now required by law, when a developer comes calling demanding water lines, to put on lingerie and cheap jewelry and purr that yes in fact it does like to be spanked. It has no control whatsoever over its growth or sprawl, and in that kind of climate, it’s a (expletive) miracle that Asheville doesn’t sprawl any more than it does.

    I have to say I’m on the city’s side in this matter. Your suburb exists because of the appeal of Asheville. If you don’t like that, don’t live here. I’m all for annexation until and unless the state ever repeals the Sullivan Acts.

  10. Politics Watcher

    Thanks for info on Sullivan Acts, although that doesn’t really explain why a 1930s situation is still affecting Asheville today, unless the legislature wants to punish Asheville.
    Please help with question of which of our state legislators and which of our county commissioners live in the city limits? Do the votes of city residents count to those legislators and commissioners?

  11. Dirk Diggler

    Alan…I doubt Mr. Bothwell said he wanted to
    annex the Biltmore Estate as it is a part of another incorporated town, Biltmore Forest.

    You people dont realize how much state of NC control is wielded against every city and town in NC. No other state controls their towns like 100 years of democrat rule affects us here. WHY do democrats want to control every little thing that you do???

  12. Alan, I said the only property I WANTED to annex was the Biltmore Estate. That remains true. Due to grandfathering or a sweetheart deal with the state, the Biltmore Estate is permitted to serve alcohol without being within city limits. (The Estate is not part of Biltmore Forest.) I continue to find it odd that Biltmore Estate seems eager to make itself the premier destination in Asheville but declines to pay taxes here.

    Dirk, Democrats (broadly speaking) don’t want to control every little thing you do. They generally want to protect you from exploitation by the upper class which does want to control everything you do and depress your wages.

    Haunted, you are correct. Unlike every other city in the state, Asheville is required to provide water county-wide at the same rate as applies within city limits. That’s why we’ll be providing cheap water to The Cliffs, for example, along with all of the other developments outside city limits.

  13. J

    I think Bothwell’s comments about democrats protecting everyone from exploitation are interesting in regards to the Sullivan Acts.

    It seems as if though a law passed by a democratic General Assembly and signed into law by a democratic governor have created the opposite effect. The rich who will live at the Cliffs will be exploiting the City of Asheville for it’s lower water rates, because they control what we do. I guess nothing’s perfect.

  14. Dirk Diggler

    Sorry to disagree Mr. Bothwell, but hardworking people do not need democrats to ‘protect’ us from exploitation, such as what we suffer from UNIONs, which have RUINED America. My wages are depressed because of the loss of jobs at the HANDS of democrats nationwide! Dont EVER vote for one again!

  15. Well Dirk, I knew a number of union workers back before Reagan broke the unions’ backs, and they had a much higher standard of living than average workers do today. In fact, since the Reagan years the wealth gap in America has vastly widened.

    Somehow the Republicans (and conservative Dems) managed to sell American workers the bill of goods that it was the unions who were causing layoffs when in fact it was the relaxation of investment rules and the facilitation of the export of the means of production which hammered American workers. We passed NAFTA with no quid pro quo for wages, workers’ rights or environmental protection, for example … and jobs moved to Mexico. We permitted corporations to duck taxation by moving offshore.

    Corporate welfare has tilted the playing field heavily toward the rich. Unions tried to fight it, but lost. Unless you are among the very wealthy, you ought to look a little harder at where your interest lies, seems to me.

  16. peoplepowergranny

    Way to go, Cecil! I’m proud to have you on the council.

  17. J

    It’s worth mentioning in regards to Cecil’s comments that there was in fact a minimum wage hike during the Clinton administration. It may not have been directly related to NAFTA, but it was not absent. And still jobs went to Mexico.

    Cecil is right about corporate welfare, it’s a stacked deck geared towards the influential.

  18. JWTJr

    “Dirk, Democrats (broadly speaking) don’t want to control every little thing you do. They generally want to protect you from exploitation by the upper class which does want to control everything you do and depress your wages.”

    That may be an initial intention of the left. However, the end result is often tossing the ‘exploited ‘ from the frying pan into the fire when the cloak of big government shows up with its list of unintended consequences.

    You have the private sector battling the elitists who run for government. Two wolves with different coats.

  19. JWTJr

    “Democrats (broadly speaking) don’t want to control every little thing you do.”

    Not every little thing. Just most things. Can’t say this, can’t think that, can’t live here, there, must live here, must drive this, not that, eat this not that … the snowball keeps getting bigger.

    In addition, if a single payor system is adopted and run by the gov’t, get ready to have your lifestyle micro managed in order to reduce health care costs.

    Do you think that Congress had the forethought to know that Social Security and Medicare would eventually be the things that broke our bank? No they did not.

    How about Carter and HUD? That proved the govt’s ability to manage that type of thing. Just about all the housing built for that has been demo’d. They immediately became run down and drug/crime infested due to poor management and a lack of forethought.

    Think about the unintended consequences that came with these programs when you think of another big program that requires their management.

  20. R.Bernier opinions

    “I’m opposed to forced annexation as a matter of principle, but as long as the Sullivan Acts are in place, we have limited options,” said Council member Cecil Bothwell.
    ——————–
    Is this mostly due to the over spending of the City of Asheville?

    Will the City just anex,raise taxes & stay their current course of spending? Having property in Asheville, I will see how this plays out in the days ahead & hope the market picks up.

    RB

  21. Ashevegasjoe

    Social Security and Medicare breaking the bank???
    How about two never-ending wars, de-regulation of the financial markets, the unquestionable Dept. of Defense budget. JWTJr, you are delusional. Also, in this country, you can think,live, eat, drive , whatever you want. This whole notion that Obama’s gonna take your guns and your religion is false. Name one piece of legislation that disproves my assertiorn. If you want to eat crappy food and drive a gasd-gussler– you can, in fact, in North Carolina your car is grandfathered in. So, please stop spreading fear and lies, eventhough it is a documented tactic by the RNC, is highly counter productive.

  22. JWTJr

    AVJ – Nothing in the budget compares to Medicare and SS. There are serious short/mid/long term issues with both programs. Rant about the wars and guns all you want. I said nothing of them.

    We can think, eat and drive what ever we want? Which party is trying to change that? Urban planning? High density housing? Not the indeps or republicans. Who wants transfats banned? Smoking? Who invented Political Correctness? Who wants big govt to tell the masses how to live? Not he indeps or republicans.

    Trying to say that the republicans or independents are the groups that want to micromanage your lifestyle is just wrong. The elite and typically filthy rich legislators representing the DNC know how we are supposed to live and are working their hardest to gett’er done.

  23. Ashevegasjoe

    You are right, nothing in the budget compares to the Defense budget. And, the republicans are poor and just like you (Palin).

  24. JWTJr

    The Democrat legislators are far richer as a group and they represent the richest districts across the US. Those tables have turned.

  25. Alan Ditmore

    A vote for residential annexation is a vote against same sex domestic partner benefits because most suburbanites are social conservatives and they will not assimilate into an urban community, they will instead tip the balance and create an antigay majority in Asheville. However commercial properties like Ingles don’t have any votes, and some of the properties involved are dohnut holes which may not be that suburban.

  26. Alan Ditmore

    One problem with commercial annexation though is that if the city is in a bigger budget crisis than the suburbs, and the city has more businesses where the suburbs are mostly residences, then residenses must be contributing more net taxes minus services than businesses. Thus businesses must be consuming more services than they are paying in taxes and thus annexing them must cost money, not produce it. This is doubly true for annexing parts of UNCA, which pays no taxes. So annexation looks like a mindless reflex to me.

  27. Alan Ditmore

    Democrat districts are richer because they fund contraception and then save hugely on public school and childcare taxes. That is why social liberals know how to truly cut taxes where social conservatives don’t.

  28. JWTJr

    “Democrat districts are richer because they fund contraception and then save hugely on public school and childcare taxes. That is why social liberals know how to truly cut taxes where social conservatives don’t.”

    That is an interesting theory. Site some sources.

  29. JWTJr

    The problem with ‘limited fertility’ social models is that they can’t last and require a constant influx of new tax payers. That runs out of gas after a while.

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