Asheville City Council met this evening. 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.
The Asheville ABC system made $1 million for city in ‘09, down from $1.2 mil in ‘08. The ABC board will spearhead a new anti-underage drinking program starting in May. ABC board member Charles Worley is encouraging Council to oppose moves in the state legislature to privatize liquor sales. Worley is also asking Council to oppose making stores directly state-run, as city would lose revenue.
Council member Bill Russell says the city’s gun buyback program took in 226 rifles, 2 assault rifles.
Russell says, there’s “going to be some work this year” to tackle the deficit; city will have to have “philosophical discussions” on priorities.
Asst City Mgr Jeff Richardson says the city now has bike lockers in every parking deck and in the hallway between Rankin/Haywood.
The Asheville Police Department’s new downtown patrol unit made 523 citations/arrests in the past quarter. Richardson says that violent crime in Asheville is down 24% in 2009.
Police Chief Bill Hogan says that some of crime decrease may be attributed to better strategies, more community policing. Hogan: “We won’t take all the credit when the rate goes down or all the blame when crime goes up”
Council is hearing quarterly financial report. The city is facing a $1 million shortfall this year. Mostly due to sales-tax decline. City tax base has grown 3.5%, mostly due to annexations. City also spent $300,000 more than expected dealing with winter storms.
On the positive side, says city CFO Ben Durant, water, transit, parking and storm water departments are expected to end the year in the black. Durant: “Balancing act for next year’s budget will be challenging, to say the least”
Durant: Tthere are some causes for optimism; the declines [in revenue] do seem to be tapering off.”
Projections for next year’s city budget show $5.1 million deficit. Increased health care costs $1.5 million of the projected deficit. Durant: City has to make choices about “what level of service we want to provide.”
Mayor Bellamy: City needs to plan how to replenish savings. “We need to ask how low is too low.”
Council approves, 7-0, expansion of mixed-use green development on Swannanoa River Road to 200 units, mostly studio apts.
Council goes into closed session to discuss undisclosed property/new industry matter
Kitty Love of Arts2People is asking city to help pursue NEA grant to get data on artists in Asheville in order to build better programs. Bill Massey of the HUB Alliance says that HUB would use NEA grant to study ways to keep artists here, bridge different cultures. Massey: Asheville in danger of taking artists for granted, losing to other cities who are pursuing them. An NEA grant could also be used to put public art at sites outside downtown.
Love, speaking for Downtown Master Plan, says that information acquired could help artists more easily find work. Arts2People is willing to work with HUB.
Council members debating about short time period for approving grant, lack of vetting by committee. Council is delaying its decision until March 9, to get more information.
Council is discussing adding areas South, West and East of the city for potential annexation. Staff is emphasizing that placing an area on that list doesn’t mean the city will annex them, just that it might. Vice Mayor Brownie Newman says, “95% of these areas won’t be annexed.” He would like to see a more limited map. Council member Jan Davis says that making a less limited, but reasonable map leaves city with opportunities if they arise.
Arden resident Judy Patterson says that her home has septic tank, that she doesn’t use Asheville services. “I don’t see why area is being considered.”
Activist Betty Jackson says she is “dismayed a progressive city like Asheville is considering a repressive tool like forced annexation.”
Newman: Asheville is put into annexation situation by state law that singles it out, banning it from using water rates to encourage communities to seek annexation.
City approves new annexation map 6-1, Russell dissenting, noting his opposition to forced annexation in general.
Council now discussing annexing 12 properties south of the city, mostly small commercial parcels. Correction: 4 of the properties are located near Haw Creek, to the NE of city limits. Council approves starting the annexation process 5-2, Russell and Mayor Bellamy against.
Bellamy says she has concerns about the cost of serving the future areas and wants more information before supporting. Council will cast a final vote on the annexations in May.