Asheville City Council

Sometimes agendas can be misleading. Despite a very short one that made no mention of budget issues, the Asheville City Council devoted a chunk of its Sept. 3 work session to discussing money matters. Council members kicked around strategies for keeping state legislators’ feet to the fire on a critical decision that could help supply the city with much-needed revenue.

Responding to an e-mail he’d received from the N.C. League of Municipalities, Council member Carl Mumpower urged Council to send a resolution to the state asking for financial options.

An excerpt from that e-mail reads: “The League’s position is that local governments need adequate, reliable and secure revenue sources. For this year, local governments need either an adequate replacement for the reimbursements — meaning accelerating the half-cent sales tax — or providing enough of the reimbursements to tide local governments over until the local half-cent sales tax can be levied, effective July 1, 2003.”

The proposed tax, which could generate $1 million for the city in the current fiscal year if it took effect by Jan. 1, has been held hostage by a legislative stalemate in Raleigh.

In July, the House defeated a Senate plan that called for both giving municipalities the option of passing a half-cent local sales and retaining the current half-cent state sales tax. The latter tax is the sticking point in the debate. Both the Senate and Gov. Mike Easley want the state tax to remain in effect until July 2003. The House, meanwhile, passed a budget/revenue package that would eliminate the state tax by the end of this year.

The League of Municipalities memo said getting House members to endorse the Senate’s approach would be “very difficult.” In the meantime, Asheville and other cash-strapped local governments are stuck; they must have the state’s permission before they can levy new taxes themselves.

On Sept. 3, Council asked City Attorney Bob Oast to draft a resolution reiterating the message Council hand-delivered to state legislators earlier this summer, asking for a menu of options that would permit local governments to levy taxes (such as a half-cent sales tax or a hotel/motel tax) themselves. So far, no real response has come back from Raleigh.

“The message is, ‘We don’t care how you do it, but agree,'” declared Mayor Charles Worley. The mayor said he sees little hope that the state will return the money owed to local governments.

Council member Brian Peterson — noting that it was the governor’s seizure of scheduled reimbursements (money the state owed to municipalities) that had precipitated the local budget crunch — asked that the message be taken not only to legislators but also to Easley. Even if the legislature takes measures to help cities financially, said Peterson, there’s no guarantee that Easley won’t step in and interfere once again.

Several Council members spoke in support of the proposed resolution. But the word “tax” made at least one Council member balk: Joe Dunn wondered aloud whether his colleagues really want the T-word hung around their necks. “Wouldn’t that have Council on record for support of a new tax?” he asked.

Undaunted, Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy replied, “I will support that one.”

At Council’s request, Oast plans to draft two resolutions — one for the legislature, another headed to the governor’s office — for Council to approve at the Sept. 10 formal session. In the meantime, Worley also urged both Council members and other city residents to personally contact their state representatives and tell them to get on the ball. Otherwise, the mayor warned, “This could just totally fall through the cracks.”

Leash that beast

Proposed changes to the city’s animal ordinance would require that all dogs be kept on a leash, even if they’re well-behaved. Other changes would make it easier to crack down on late-night barking and would prohibit tethering animals to city property (including posts and parking meters).

The revisions, several months in the making, were brought to Council by the Police Department’s Animal Services Division and were hammered out with the help of community groups. The goal, says recently hired Animal Services Officer Brenda Covey, is to make the ordinance more consistent and usable. Contacted later, Covey explained that the APD will stress education in its efforts to bring pet owners and their animals into compliance.

That includes making it easier for pet owners to find out about registration and vaccination requirements. The revised ordinance will be posted on the Animal Services section of the city’s Web site (www.ci.asheville.nc.us/police/animal%20services.htm), and information about licensing and vaccinations may be sent out with city water bills. Covey said the department also plans to use fliers that can be hung on doorknobs as a way to spread the word about the licensing requirements — an approach she used in her previous job with the Humane Society.

The new measures would also pave the way for more enforcement, Police Chief Will Annarino told Council. “We’ve heard loud and clear from the community,” Annarino proclaimed. “They want fairly strict enforcement of the ordinance.” Covey estimates, for example, that less than 10 percent of the dogs in the city are currently licensed. The changes, said Annarino, would help ensure that enforcement is “fair and consistent.”

Council will vote on the changes at their next formal session.

Going once…

The city is once again planning to unload hundreds of used items in a public auction, including cars, trucks, computer equipment and furniture.

The surplus property is culled from all city departments, and the annual auctions generate anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000, according to Finance Director Bill Schaefer.

Pending Council’s approval at the next formal session, the auction is slated to be held Saturday, Oct. 5 at 10 a.m. in the Public Works Complex (161 Charlotte St.)

Get involved

Council is putting out a call for applicants to help fill vacancies on the Civic Center Commission, the Downtown Commission and the WaterAuthority. The application deadline is Friday, Sept. 13. For more information, call the City Clerk’s Office (259-5601).

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