It’s an old wound: the perennial sore spot called “annexation.”
At their April 2 work session, Asheville City Council members reviewed seven areas the city might annex: a one-mile section along the Leicester Highway (west), Sherwood Heights (north), Huntington Chase (east), Bell Road (east), Mill Stone (south), Forest Lake (south) and Kensington-Windsor (south).
The annexations, which could take effect as early as July 2003, would bring in about $300,000 a year in added revenues.
But first, the city needs to dispel some myths about what you get when your property’s annexed, suggested Council member Holly Jones. It wasn’t always this way, but state law now requires the city to provide services comparable to what other city residents get — such as police/fire protection and water/sewer service, she noted.
“There’s nothing mythological about your [property] taxes going up,” said Council member Joe Dunn. “People getting annexed look at the little things hitting them in their pockets … not the benefits,” he remarked. Dunn argued that the city would have a hard time convincing the more than 1,000 residents who might get annexed that it was worth seeing their property taxes more than double (for every $100 of their property’s assessed value, county residents now pay 52 cents in taxes; the city tax rate is 63 cents).
For city government and residents alike, money is the bottom line.
If the city never (or only rarely) annexes, then there’s a fixed pool of property owners and residents to shoulder the ever-increasing costs of providing such services as police and fire protection, street paving and garbage pickup, Asheville Planner Paul Benson remarked. He also pointed out that the only access to the subdivisions being considered for annexation is via city streets; those property owners, he argued, are already getting at least some benefit from the city without having to pay city property taxes.
Still, Benson acknowledged that the $300,000 in new revenue “is the major motivation” for annexing.
“The idea of it just being a financial benefit to the city bothers me,” said Dunn. “There has to be a way to make it a financial benefit to the citizens [and] to our community.”
Benson replied that there are benefits to annexation: Most property owners would pay less for fire insurance and would get city garbage pickup, street maintainance, and water-and-sewer service (if the latter weren’t already available). In addition, he noted, city zoning/development standards help protect property values.
City Manager Jim Westbrook recommended an annexation study called Cities Without Suburbs, which he said discusses such issues as spreading out the cost of municipal services and avoiding situations in which only the very rich and very poor live in the city while the middle class lives outside it.
Annexations due to take effect this year will bring in about $2 million a year in new revenues, including both property taxes and other revenues based on population (such as the city’s share of sales taxes) and total street miles (the Powell Bill monies, paid from the gasoline tax), Westbrook pointed out. Providing services to those newly annexed areas costs nearly $300,000 a year, and the one-time capital cost of providing such items as water lines and trash receptacles was about $1 million.
Ever mindful of the city budget, Dunn absorbed all that information and asked whether the added revenue would be “money we could count on” — i.e., money the state couldn’t withhold as it did this year.
Westbrook shook his head. The inventory tax, collected by the state but disbursed to local governments based on population and other factors, accounted for some of the money withheld this year.
Council member Carl Mumpower followed another line in exploring the mythology of annexation: State law requires the city to provide certain services to annexed areas, such as police/fire protection and water/sewer service; yet garbage pickup isn’t guaranteed. Several of the areas proposed for annexation contain condominiums and apartment complexes; those properties wouldn’t get garbage pickup, Mumpower noted.
Westbrook replied that it’s a money issue: It’s just too expensive to provide curbside pickup for each indiviudal apartment or condo (the Kensington/Windsor annexation alone includes several hundred apartment units).
And Mayor Charles Worley noted that the city is only required to provide “comparable services” in such cases: Apartments and condos within the city limits don’t get individual garbage pickup either.
Council member Brian Peterson mentioned a Sondley annexation that had relieved property owners of the burden of having to pay for major street repairs. “But no one likes to pay more taxes,” conceded Peterson.
Telling people in annexed areas that they’ll break even on such benefits is like “telling teenagers if they smoke a joint, they’ll become heroin addicts within two years,” Mumpower remarked. He cautioned fellow Council members and city staff that they need to work hard on educating people about the benefits annexation does bring.
Benson noted that the annexation process would involve at least one public-information meeting (June 3), public hearings (June 11), and adoption of the annexation proposals as early as June 25. Any annexations approved at that time wouldn’t take effect until July 1, 2003.
Council members had no further comments.
Money for homes and more
The feds have cut $40,000 from last year’s allocation for a local community-development fund, Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan told Council members. But that still leaves $1.9 million for Community Development Block Grant funds, which are available to Asheville nonprofits, the city, and other organizations to help pay for housing, economic development and community services, she reported. There’s also $1.5 million through the HOME program, which the city administers and allocates for a four-county area, including Buncombe.
The CDBG funds will be allocated to such projects as Habitat for Humanity’s Twin Springs development in Oakley, the Asheville-Buncombe Affordable Housing Coalition’s homebuyer education services, the Hillcrest Youth Enrichment Program, and the city’s water/sewer improvements for the West End/Clingman Avenue neighborhood, Caplan indicated.
Council member Joe Dunn noted that one agency had gotten a much-needed boost in federal funds (and more than it had asked for) — AHOPE, for its homeless shelters. “I’m glad we committed to more money to meet the homeless needs,” said Dunn.
Council member Carl Mumpower voiced concern about the slow pace of progress on funded projects in the Eagle/Market Street redevelopment area.
Caplan replied that the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corporation had been informed that it’s expected to show some results this year.
Council member Holly Jones added, “In light of the budget crisis, it’s important to get this [federal] money and do it right, so we don’t lose any [funding] or have to give it back.” Jones chairs Council’s Housing and Development Committee, which is charged with evaluating CDBG funding requests and recommending annual allocations. [In certain situations, unused CDBG funds can revert to the federal government, Caplan had noted.]
To secure this year’s funding allotment, Council must vote to approve the recommended allocations by its April 23 formal session, said Caplan.
School board interviews
Five candidates are vying for one vacancy on the Asheville City School Board: Marsha Bate, Pegi O’Hagan, Allison Jordan, Keith Thomson and Roxie Wynn.
The candidates will be interviewed April 16, starting at 5 p.m.
Council member Holly Jones mentioned that there are no women on the school board.
Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy remarked that the open seat had been held by an African-American male (Mark Gordan).
Mayor Charles Worley responded that appointing “the most qualified candidate” is his primary criterion, followed by such considerations as the board’s gender makeup.
Mumpower commented that he doesn’t consider such factors as race or gender balance, preferring to focus on qualities such as creativity and leadership.
Tackling campaign-finance reform
Perception is often reality, former Mayor Leni Sitnick was fond of saying.
And when Council members tackled the touchy issue of appointing ex-officio representatives from various organizations to serve on a citizens’ committee to address campaign-finance reform, political realities hit a potential quagmire.
The easy part was agreeing that each Council member would recommend one person to serve on the seven-member committee, which will consider such ideas as providing public funding for candidates who agreed to limit campaign spending. The committee would report back to Council with recommendations within 120 days.
The ex-officio matter was not so easily resolved.
Brian Peterson recommended that Council appoint ex-officio representatives from such groups as the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and perhaps the newly formed coalition Citizens for Campaign Finance Reform. He also suggested limiting ex-officio, nonvoting membership to three or four organizations.
Mumpower — seconded by Joe Dunn — asked that Council add representatives from the Council of Independent Business Owners and Citizens for Change.
Before Dunn or Mumpower could say more, Holly Jones objected: “This is a [potential] quagmire.” Picking and choosing among various groups could appear biased, she argued.
Peterson agreed, noting that the citizens’ group will be subject to the state’s open-meetings law, which stipulates that individuals and organizations be allowed to attend meetings and make comments. Picking one group but not another could be divisive, he remarked.
Dunn asked whether county residents could be appointed.
Peterson emphasized that the committee is considering city elections and should be made up of city voters.
Dunn asked whether Council members should nominate alternates, in case anyone appointed to the citizens’ committee resigned. Mumpower suggested that replacements could perhaps be appointed by the mayor.
But Jones, noting the possible “perception of influence,” said she’d rather keep Worley off that potential hot seat.
Worley readily agreed, and the alternate issue was dropped.
“Our ex-officio [idea] didn’t go over so well,” Mumpower said to Dunn.
“You win some, lose some,” he replied.
At their April 2 work session, Asheville City Council members indicated they will approve the following:
• Establish a Council committee to organize a Memorial Day celebration this year. Council member Carl Mumpower brought up the idea, mentioning that the county is willing to co-sponsor the event. Mumpower emphasized, “We want to do it without going into the city coffers.” Organizers will seek funds from local veterans’ organizations, business groups and others, he noted. Mumpower, Jim Ellis and Joe Dunn will serve on the Council committee.
• Authorize the city clerk to advertise a purchase bid from Neighborhood Housing Services for city-owned property at 17 Kendall St. in West Asheville. NHS has bid $10,000 for the lot, which was acquired via foreclosure. Covering the tax lien, removing abestos and abandoned furniture, and demolishing the home cost the city $10,908.31 all told. NHS, which is seeking a $9,500 short-term loan from the city, plans to build an affordable home on the property. City staff proposed making the 2 percent loan due within 24 months of NHS’ closing on the property, or when the new home is sold, whichever comes first.
• Hold a north Asheville community meeting on April 30, 7-9 p.m. at the North Asheville Community Center.