Asheville City Council

You could call it a pre-emptive strike: This year’s Honda Hoot was barely over before event organizers negotiated next year’s parking deal with city staff — hinting strongly to City Council members that they wouldn’t return to Asheville without it. And, with little evidence of the vehement objections expressed this past spring, Council members bought the proposal: Allow preregistered Hoot participants to pay $3 per motorcycle for unlimited parking in designated downtown areas and metered spaces during the five-day event (late registrants will pay $5).

That’s significantly more than the $1/$3 deal Hoot organizers had initially proposed, City Finance Director Bill Schaefer told Council members at their Aug. 3 work session. And because these fees are to be paid per motorcycle (instead of per person) for Hoot 2000, the arrangement will net the city about $11,455 — nearly three times what Hoot attendees paid for parking this year, he noted.

A few months earlier, Council members — surprised to learn that Hoot participants would be paying roughly 50 cents a day to park downtown, at a time when meter rates were going up to 60 cents per hour — had made blistering comments about the deal.

This time around, however, Council member Barbara Field asked a series of specific questions about the total number of metered spaces downtown (690) and the percentage of use on a given day (individual-meter use ranges from 40 percent to 90 percent, depending on the location of the meter) At 40 percent usage, Field estimated that downtown meters (used for 10 hours a day at 60 cents per hour for five days) would yield $8,280 — which is less than what the Hoot will pay.

Some Council members couldn’t suppress a laugh at the complicated formula — but, apparently, they couldn’t quibble with the extra revenue, either: They agreed to place the proposal on the Aug. 10 consent agenda.

Asheville on-line

Imagine being able to fill out an on-line application for a city board vacancy, or send city planners your building-site plans via the Internet, or call up the zoning information on a piece of property you want to buy.

That’s all in the near future for Asheville’s Web site, says Information Services Director Larry Bopp, who gave Council members a brief presentation during their Aug. 3 work session.

“Did I hear you say you’re going to put the [Unified Development Ordinance] on there?” Mayor Leni Sitnick asked.

“It’s already on disk,” said the technology-oriented Barbara Field. But she, in turn, asked Bopp to make sure those on-line, interactive applications don’t let people accidentally push the “enter” key before they’ve completed the form. “That happens to me all the time,” admitted Field.

“Teach Barbara how not to hit the … button,” teased Chuck Cloninger.

Jokes aside, the city’s Internet arrangement already provides a few modern perks — each Council member and department head has e-mail, which Vice Mayor Ed Hay said he prefers: “Talking on the phone is nice, but I can respond so easily [to e-mail].”

Asheville’s Web site also offers basic information about the city, such as population and city services, Bopp noted. Within the year, his staff will also incorporate bus and trash-pickup route information, give the site a cleaner look, and add maps directing people to city facilities — plus a variety of downloadable application forms.

But making those applications interactive, so that customers can fill them out and submit them on-line, will take more time, Bopp explained. For starters, the city will have to set up a local server for the system, instead of relying on one in Raleigh.

Other planned improvements will target the city’s intranet — an in-house communications system used by city staff — and will include publishing city policies on such issues as sexual harassment and employee Internet use, continued Bopp. His staff are also working on a system that will enable users to pay for city services on-line, using credit cards.

The advantage to all these improvements? “Our information will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to fit customers’ schedules,” said Bopp.

Council members made little comment on the report, although they noted that some of the coming improvements may require more funds in next year’s budget. And Cloninger asked if there was a policy restricting who can set up links to Asheville’s site: There’s no written policy on that, and total control probably isn’t possible, Bopp replied.

Council members took no formal action on the report.

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