Both the heartstrings and the budget strings got tugged at Asheville City Council’s April 16 work session.
Council members voted 4-3 to give the Asheville Youth Sports Program $15,000 to replace football/cheerleading uniforms and concession equipment destroyed in an electrical fire last Thanksgiving in a city-owned building at Memorial Stadium.
The split vote reflected disagreement over the amount of the grant — not over whether the city should help the group, which has served the Asheville area for 34 years.
Everything the sports program owned “went up in flames,” said Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy. Her husband, Lamont Bellamy, serves on the group’s board. All told, about $30,000 worth of property was lost, she reported — football uniforms, helmets, shoulder pads and cheerleading uniforms, as well as a refrigerator, microwave and other equipment.
But the city’s insurance declined to cover the sports program’s loss, though it covered the building and some city-owned equipment, Bellamy reported. On behalf of the AYSP, she asked Council to approve a $25,000 grant from the city’s contingency fund.
If the group had had renters’ insurance, their equipment would have been covered, noted Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson.
“Did we know that? Did they know that beforehand?” queried Council member Carl Mumpower.
Those questions went unanswered, but Bellamy noted that the group is covered now.
Council member Joe Dunn voiced concern about setting a precedent that would have every youth-sports group in the city coming to Council for funds in a crisis. He also mentioned that in his experience coaching youth teams, equipment is generally taken home, not stored on site. But Dunn also remarked, “We need to get you guys back on the field.” Harking back to his own early days in sports, Dunn recalled that when he got his first uniform and put it on, he couldn’t wait to look in the mirror. So it just wouldn’t do to send the kids out in ragged uniforms later this summer, he remarked.
Recognizing that most of the 160 children in the league come from low- to moderate-income families, Council member Holly Jones argued: “It’s important these kids have the same things other kids do. … If you care about things like the achievement gap [between minority and white chidren in city schools], this is a pretty cheap way to [help]. This is not a lot of money for a population that doesn’t get a lot of breaks.”
After Mumpower had suggested that the city give the group $11,000 in funds requiring some sort of a match, Bellamy countered by proposing an unconditional $15,000 grant.
But Dunn and Mayor Charles Worley balked at the latter amount, and Jim Ellis also initially voiced concern over the figure.
“Our hearts have been tugged here,” said Mumpower. Nonetheless, he said he didn’t think the city should, in general, fund youth programs that could get funding elsewhere.
Dunn asked for time to think about the proposal but was told that there’s a time crunch: The group must pay for uniforms by June 1 or risk not being able to start the fall season. There are other struggling teams, children and parents, countered Dunn, adding, “The precedent worries me.”
Mumpower suggested a compromise figure of $12,000.
Brian Peterson, however, remarked he didn’t want to cut the requested amount so deeply that the program couldn’t run this fall. “It’s half their fault for not having insurance, [but] it’s our fault, too,” he argued. He pitched his support for the $15,000.
Worley voiced “very mixed feelings.” In effect, he mused, the group is asking the city to be an insurer when it could have gotten renters’ coverage. On the other hand, the equipment was stored on city property and the fire may have occurred because of faulty wiring. So even though it might set a precedent, said Worley, he would approve up to a $12,000 grant.
Council waived its regular work-session rules by agreeing to take a formal vote, and Bellamy took a chance: There appeared to be four votes for $15,000, she declared (although, in fact, only Bellamy, Jones and Peterson had voiced clear support for that amount).
Dunn fidgeted and said he wanted to be sure no precedent was being set.
Mumpower said he’d only go for $10,000 (though he had said $11,000 earlier).
Jones jumped in with a motion, seconded by Bellamy, to grant the Asheville Youth Sports Program $15,000 — no match required. She argued that making the grant contingent on matching funds might hinder the group, given the weak economy and the trouble nonprofits are having raising money.
Worley said he couldn’t support $15,000. Dunn and Mumpower said likewise.
In the end, it was Ellis who provided the swing vote. The group, he pointed out, needs $22,000 for its uniforms and already has more than $6,000 in donations. His vote gave Bellamy the majority needed to approve a $15,000 grant.
A walk on the wild side
It’s a bit like having the rug pulled out from under you — only this rug is concrete. Last year, City Council promised money to help pay for sidewalks for Haw Creek; in the wake of state budget cuts, however, the city cut $190,000 from its sidewalk fund. That left a mere $110,000 for sidewalk construction and maintenance citywide … and nothing for Haw Creek.
But the neighborhood’s Residents Association wants the city to apply for a state grant that could bring in at least $300,000 this year for curbs and gutters along New Haw Creek Road (estimated to cost about $700,000). City employees could then complete the rest of the sidewalk, suggested Association President Chris Pelly.
The whole neighborhood now has only one-third of a mile of sidewalk (along Beverly Road). There are no sidewalks along busy New Haw Creek Road and none near neighborhood schools, said Haw Creek Pedestrian Task Force Co-Chair Calvin Underwood. Describing himself as an avid cyclist and walker, Underwood mentioned, “I’ve personally had a lot of close calls on New Haw Creek Road.”
In the past year, the citizens’ task force and city staff have identified three areas in need of sidewalks — Avon Road, Trinity Chapel Road and New Haw Creek — and city staff have completed most of the design work, Underwood reported. The task force’s criteria included proximity to schools, churches and community centers and high pedestrian use, he explained. “What do we need to move forward? Obviously, we need money,” said Underwood.
The total cost for all three proposals is $1.2 million.
Council members voiced cautious support, given the city’s budget crunch. Joe Dunn reiterated Pelly’s statement that 10 percent of the city’s population lives in the Haw Creek area. Mayor Worley mentioned that other cities get money from the Department of Transportation by bringing money to the table as leverage. And Brian Peterson remarked that Council had promised action last year but had “pulled the rug out from under them” after the state budget cuts came down.
Holly Jones remarked that Haw Creek’s organized effort, working through the task force, is “a model for the rest of the community.” She also noted that “we hear a lot of bellyaching” from developers required to build sidewalks, even though it’s “good for the city.”
No one had money to offer, however. Worley summed up the support for Haw Creek, directing staff to report back to Council with recommendations on how much could be done this year.
At their April 16 work session, Asheville City Council members indicated they will approve the following:
• Renewed license agreements with Morris Communications, which rents antenna and ground space at city-owned towers at 36 Reservoir Road and at Peach Knob Reservoir. Morris will pay a $6,300 license fee for the Reservoir Road site (located on the old White Fawn Reservoir property) and $5,100 for Peach Knob (located off Town Mountain Road). Morris will also pay a utility fee of $150 per site, per year.
• A $366,676 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration as reimbursement for “new, additional, or revised security requirements imposed on the [Asheville Regional Airport] on or after Sept. 11.”
• Amendments to the city’s 1997 Municipal Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, in accordance with changes made by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources concerning Powell Bill, payroll/payroll deduction and personnel records.
• A $68,000 contract with low bidder Donna Spratt (d.b.a. Donnie Appleseed’s Landscaping) to mow city-owned public rights of way in the city’s east and west districts (two of the city’s five mowing districts).