City Council holds hearing on budget, passes new rules for gaming

Here’s a compilation of Xpress’ Senior News Reporter David Forbes’ live tweets from the May 25 meeting of Asheville City Council:

City council beginning pre-meeting work session now, discussing economic development, budget. 

City Hall repairs not part of 2010-11 budget, will probably be paid for with debt during 2011-12.

Mayor Terry Bellamy: Office of Economic Development “holds hand” of businesses interested in Asheville, works “hand in hand” with TDA.

City Manager Gary Jackson: City in “holding pattern” on getting new Civic Center Director. It’s not in the coming budget. Currently, Economic Development Director Sam Powers is also running Civic Center. Jackson notes he’ll eventually need more assistance.

Council member Gordon Smith on budget schedule: “tonight’s the night for any surprises.”

Council adjourning for work session, regular meeting begins a 5 p.m.  Council will hold a public hearing on the much-debated budget tonight.

Council will also take up cuts to fee waivers for cultural events—one of the budget’s most controversial parts.

Council will be discussing Pack Square Conservancy issues during closed session tonight. A statement is expected afterwards.

The Veteran Affairs report notes that four Navy ships have carried Asheville’s name.

The Downtown Commission is considering the creation of an Artist Alliance Pack Square Cultural District.

The Downtown Commission is also focusing on highlighting Asheville’s history.

Mayor Bellamy is asking about the shifting borders of downtown due to growth; particularly Moog move.

Council will hold a work session in near future on downtown initiatives.

New Transit Chair Paul Van Heden noting new vacancy, says the commission is an “excellent cross section” of the community.

Van Heden: Transit focus for 2010-11 will be service improvements, marketing, finding new funding sources. 
Also: “Transportation Congress” so other boards and committees will be aware of needs.

Council approves use of over $350,000 in stimulus funds for local energy planning, Kimberly Ave resurfacing.

CIBO rep asking Council to reform storm water utility, reconsider selling water to other cities.

Asheville resident Fred English: Council shouldn’t spend money on greenways or Clingman traffic calming: “Let’s get our priorities straight.” Mayor clarifies that Clingman improvements are state DOT, not city and that water’s being sold to Hendersonville. 

There were only two commenters during the public hearing on Asheville’s budget.

City staff presenting proposed rules for special permits for electronic gaming operations. Rules would limit hours, location of gaming businesses, and the amount of machines to 20. Rules wouldn’t allow gaming operations close to churches, schools or residential areas.

Check out tomorrow’s Xpress for a piece on Asheville’s budget debates, what gets cut and where city goes from here.

Gaming operations would have to pay thousands in fees to city to operate.

Asheville resident Fred English: “I watched a man put $500 in to a machine: Get everything you can get out of these people” and the machines will eventually be outlawed.

Bellamy objects to English calling former Gov. Easley “Gov. Sleasley” as inappropriate.

Gaming business owner William Withers: Use is recreational, indoor business, shouldn’t need special permits, rules.

Withers: “Why was this not a zoning problem in 2005?” Gaming business “being bullied” by city

Withers: “Aunt Edna playing the machine” is what people will find. “It’s not immoral. It’s tenants, not nuisances.”

City planner Shannon Tuch: This is just a proposal modeled on other cities’ rules, staff doesn’t stand one way or another.

Tuch: “When you have that much money in one place, it becomes a target for robbery and crimes of opportunity.”

Bellamy: City may have to rescind ordinance if state makes these operations illegal.

Council member Gordon Smith: Ordinance “implies some sort of criminal impact associated with this.” Wants to see more info.

Council member Jan Davis: Because state hasn’t handled this, “we have to deal with this.”

Davis: Ordinance “a little heavy-handed” on distance rules, hasn’t seen a huge difference in convenience stores that put them in.

Council member Manheimer: Allowing gaming “slippery slope… Opposed to system that has this as general element” wants happy medium.

Bothwell: “I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing.”

Bothwell: The idea of success from luck is “poisoning America… A really toxic idea” but making gambling illegal opens up corruption.

Zoning rules on gaming businesses passes 6-1, Russell against.

Cap of 20 gaming machines passes 6-1, Russell against.

Council will reconsider spacing rules for gaming businesses in 6 months. Bellamy, Russell vote against.

Consideration of hours of operation rules delayed six months, passes unanimously.

Council going into closed session to discuss lawsuit, property acquisitions.

Council emerging from closed session.

No statement on Conservancy issues yet, Council proceeding to considering agreements, fee waivers for outdoor events.

Staff suggesting waivers for six “core” events, special nonprofit rates for others on future, grandfathering 26 events in this year.

Core festivals would get 3-year agreement on fee waivers. 3 groups: Friends of Nature Center, Pack Conservancy, Downtown Association get special agreements.

Ronald King, representing Goombay (a core event), thanking city for support, backing proposal.

Representative of Blue Ridge Pride putting “name out for consideration in future” as core event.

Core events get all fees waived, though city assistance would be capped a $114,000 total for all 6.

Council member Smith suggesting framework remain open to adding new core events if they prove successful.

Vice Mayor Newman wants to find ways to get tourists who come to town for events to help pay for them.

Support for core events waiver passes unanimously.

Council supports going forward with Nature Center, Pack Conservancy, Downtown Association to develop formal agreements for events with city.

Some groups (neighborhood parties) throw events with out city co-sponsorship, would pay full permit fees.

Manheimer: “I don’t understand how someone navigates through this system” with changes Council would make.

Bellamy: After new guidelines for fest waivers, “I hope this goes away.”

Administration Director Lauren Bradley: “I admit this has been a confusing process.”

Fee waivers don’t include police, barricades. Fees for those paid to respective departments.

Council unanimously passes special nonprofit festival rate, waives fees for 27 groups this year.

Council unanimously approves leaving out Normac plant from annexation in return for waiving requirement to extend sewer, saving city money.

Staff say they haven’t received word that any annexations will be challenged.

11 annexations pass 6-1, Russell against. Airport Road annexation passes 5-2, Bellamy joining Russell.

Russell is opposed to involuntary annexations, Bellamy said she was concerned about costs of providing service to new area.

Homeless preacher “Brother” Chris Chiaromonte criticizing Council, APD arrests, city property smoking ban.

Meeting adjourned, no announcement on Pack Conservancy.

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