Asheville City Council met yesterday evening, with an afternoon work session preceding it. David Forbes covered it for Xpress and is working on a full report. In the meantime, here is his coverage via Twitter, as it happened.
City Mgr Gary Jackson quips that city should perhaps begin its budget meeting “with an invocation.” City facing $5 million deficit next fiscal year, staff looking for direction on priorities from Council.
Asheville CFO Ben Durant: lessened revenue is probably “new norm,” requires “structural change.” Durant: “We may have to consider a tax rate increase,” among other possible measures.
Staff recommending 9% water rate increase. Parking fund is doing well, however, as revenues from meters, citations, fees are exceeding expenses. Costs of Asheville transit system increasing while federal funds decreasing. Mayor Bellamy: Transits costs have increased too much w/out better service “something’s got to give” Staff recommends delaying implementing transit master plan improvements, raising motor vehicle services, cutting some evening routes
City’s health care costs have doubled in last 6 yrs, revenues not kept pace. Staff emphasizes city health care costs at or below national average. Staff recommending outsourcing management of some parks facilities, reducing funding to outside nonprofits. Staff now estimating $3.5-3.7 million deficit for next year, assuming $2 million in dept management cuts. Durant: Tax increase “shouldn’t be off the table.” City Hall repairs, vehicle replacement costs $10 million combined, Asheville has $2.6 million available for such projects.
Council member Bothwell broaches making trash pickup bi-weekly, Bellamy: “Trash is like mom and apple pie in this city”
Council scheduling another budget worksession for Mar. 23 due to number of questions. Council member Davis quips “I have no life.”
Staff recommending 4-8% cut in funds to outside agencies. Mayor, Vice Mayor Newman recommending more, but prioritizing. Davis, Bellamy won’t support 9% water increase, will push for 4% instead. Council member Smith suggesting finding ways to lessen water rate impacts on small businesses. Council member Manheimer: Seems like residential users subsidize commercial, industrial. City needs to “realign” rates.
Newman, Russell against raising property tax. Bothwell, Smith open to possibility. Manheimer, Davis, Bellamy want more info.
City may get $200,000 back from FEMA for winter storms. City spent extra $500,000 dealong w storms.
Council continues worksession until 2pm March 23, to allow for more time for discussion. Regular mtg beginning now #avlgov 3/9/2010 5:09 pm
Russell votes against $60,000 in block grants for bus route furniture, “we have to start saying no to some things” Passes 6-1. Bothwell told Xpress prior to mtg that he won’t make motion to dissolve, reconvene planning board, due to presence of county members. Bothwell said would push to reconsider last appts, but that’s “complicated” by need to reappt county members too if board dissolved. Parks & Rec board update touting push to ban smoking in all public parks to “promote healthy living.”
Asheville’s received $209,940 in stimulus funds for planning, increasing fuel readiness for shortage emergency. Council accepts stimulus funds for card access, surveillance cameras on police station 6-1, Russell against.
Council discussing endorsing, contributing space to MAIN’s WNC Cloud Computing project.
Jonathan Feldman, IT director for city: “More broadband is good.” Feldman discussing #googleavl initiative as well as cloud-computing proposal. “I don’t really see a downside.” Bellamy jokingly rules out renaming the city for #googleavl push, as Topeka has done “It’s always going to be Asheville.” MAIN Director Wally Bowen: “I’d rather have the city’s endorsement than any amount of money.” Council endorses MAIN cloud computing application 6-1, Russell against, says he would like more info.
Council now considering resources, endorsement for NEA grant between Downtown Master Plan & city’s own Public Art Board. Master Plan wants grant to create artist’s search engine to locate “everything from cultural districts to rehearsal space.” #Googleavl compared to railroad, formula 1 racing in council discussion. Arts search engine would “serve as clearinghouse for all cultural resources in city.” City public arts proposal would put public art in areas outside downtown. Davis: “whole [grant] application process a little confusing… murky” Bellamy agrees.
Council backs public art proposal unanimously, Smith suggest master plan proposal go to Tourism Product Dev Fund for assistance.
Bellamy on 10yr plan to end homelesseness: discussion needed around “those who prey on homeless but aren’t chronically homeless.” Homeless plan staff will come back in April w more stats, info on progress.
Council hearing proposal for 30-min bus routes on some major roads, higher fares to make up cost. Anticipated cost of changes $30,000, though future revenues estimated to balance this. Newman: Asheville’s fare structure “different in a good way” encourages regular ridership, wary of raising it. Newman: “Many people who ride the bus are low-income people… don’t want to raiswe rates” on that population. Russell against transit system changes, as $30,000 would come out of fund balance, concerned about costs. Bellamy encouraging bus system to find funds in next year’s budget.
Staff broaches the idea of talking w other depts to find other ways to save the necessary money. Smith says marketing effort, improvements needed. “I think this is money very well spent” Manheimer: “Need to make this something citizens can use… shouldn’t need to have an A in algebra” to get on bus. Council votes unanimously to delay considering transit changes for one month.
According to city staff, proposed annexation of 12 properties to South, Northeast will require 2 new police officers, addl sewer. Council votes 6-1 to move 11 annexations forward another step, Russell opposed. Bellamy joined him in opposing 12th parcel. Bellamy opposed moving annexation forward on Airport Rd shopping complex, concerned about cost of providing services.
Council votes unanimously to support French Broad Water Resources Study Committee for regional planning in time of drought.
Manheimer recused for approval of housing trust fund loan for 12-unit tunnel rd project (which passed 6-0), due to legal work.
Council hearing report of damage to terra cotta covering City Hall roof. Due to water damage, some windows loose in City Hall. Building meant to last 50 yrs w/out major renovation, has lasted 82 Total estimated cost of renovations, repairs estimated $5.5 million. Renovation would also open top two floors of City Hall, possibly for Council member offices, among others. Bellamy wants to delay approving project mgr for renovation til budget’s decided, City Mgr Gary Jackson says need to start now. Council approves going forward with preparing renovation plans, hiring manager 6-1, Bellamy opposed.
Council discussing ways to get legislature to adjust boundaries between Asheville & Woodfin to increase efficiency of service. City Attorney Bob Oast on upcoming legislative session: “we hope the state doesn’t reduce any of our revenue streams.”
Newman suggesting board member application require disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Bothwell concerned that board selection process often doesn’t provide enough transparency, time for discussion. Newman: “Don’t think we had a process breakdown” w recent planning board controversy, but sees need for more disclosure.
Smith asks Mayor Bellamy to appear in video for city’s #googleavl push. Her reply: “As long as our name stays Asheville.”
Barry Summers criticizing appointment of Holly Shriner to planning commission: “Oops seems to happen a lot.. I hope you revisit it”
Russell defends his vote for Shriner, a developer’s wife with no formal planning qualifications: “I don’t think she was an oops”