“Just not enough to go around” — Council fails to reach consensus on staff raise

At a sometimes tense special June 5 budget work session, Asheville City Council failed to reach a consensus on what size raise to give city employees. Staff will likely present both options at the June 12 meeting before Council votes on the issue.

On May 22, their last formal meeting, Council members had responded sympathetically to demands from police and firefighters who wanted more than the 1 percent cost-of-living increase currently in the proposed budget. But personnel costs make up about 65 percent of the city’s expenditures, and for every percentage point raise, the city has to find roughly $500,000 in the budget, city staff estimated.

Devoting a greater share of potential sales tax revenue to an increase and paying for some one-time capital improvements out of reserve funds, staff suggested, could free up enough funds to provide staff with a 2 percent pay increase, along with a $600 bonus for those making below the median income — if sales-tax revenues turn out better than expected. Staff also presented Council with an option for a 3 percent raise, but that would require delaying more projects and using more reserve funds.

Council member Marc Hunt pointed out that Asheville taxpayers already bear the costs for services and infrastructure that benefit an unusually large population of visitors and that regional and state governments should recognize the city’s role as a “regional enterprise” and help fund it. Resolving the city’s long-term budget challenges, he said, is essential to avoid becoming “a hollowed-out city, unable to provide services.”

Manheimer noted that because city salaries are a recurring expense, maintaining higher salaries would require the city would “have to do something more drastic, like raise taxes.”

“Or more rational,” said Council member Cecil Bothwell, a longtime advocate of a property tax increase to meet the city’s needs. A tax increase narrowly failed at the last Council meeting.

Mayor Terry Bellamy was particularly vocal about wanting a higher increase for staff, suggesting the city delay as many infrastructure and capital projects as necessary to do it. She called it “deplorable” that the budget brought forward by staff didn’t include a more substantial pay increase for city employees.

Her assertion led to a tense moment with City Manager Gary Jackson, who replied, “We don’t have any fat in this budget.” He said that staff have repeatedly done the best they can in the teeth of the recession. He added that operations are already affected by delays in items like equipment and infrastructure.

Council member Gordon Smith was absent from the discussion due to a family funeral, Manheimer reported that he favored a 2 percent increase along with a possible bonus.

“He’s not here,” Bellamy replied.

After the meeting, Lauren Bradley, the city’s director of administration and finance, told Xpress that staff would likely draft up two budget outlines, one with a 2 percent pay increase, and alternate with 3 percent. During the meeting Bradley noted that neither city salaries or infrastructure are at the level they need to be.

“At the end of the day there’s just not enough to go around,” she said.


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6 thoughts on ““Just not enough to go around” — Council fails to reach consensus on staff raise

  1. Roger Hartlwy

    The council appears to be taking tax increases off the table. That appears a bit to conservative and it ignores revenue problems that have made city employees and residents to do without. I hope I’m wrong. Property taxes are low and have not been raised in ten years. It is a start and other revenue sources must be explored…like hotel occupancy tax increases. The city manager is right. There are few options if we rely on sales revenue..and the boom and bust…that they bring to budgets. 3 years without a pay increase is because we lack sufficient and diverse revenue streams. It is necessary to expand the budge pie with a 1-2 cent raise in property tax and a real effort to maximize revenues from tourists that can be kept by the city and it’s residents.

    I hope to see movement on taxes. It appears more and more a fear and one that is unfounded when a simple reasonable measure cannot be taken in a heavily Democrat city.

  2. Roger Hartley

    There is not enough to Go around when we gamble on sales taxes as a major revenue source. Council must do what is right and do a tiny, modest raise in property taxes. It will pay for larger raises that are necessary to keep and attract public servants. It is also necessary for the kind of community we demanded with our vote. This is a democrat city. We voted for sidewalks, greenways, schools and quality of life. It’s worth a cent or two now and an immediate effort to study a more stable balance of revenues that is not so dependent on sales revenue which is bust in bad years.

    I hope to see less wait and see and more action now. This is reasonable. 10 years without a tax raise to property.

    • trav-on-hiatus

      Valuations was much higher than they were 10 years ago. Perhaps a “resident” tax of some sort would be more appropriate to make sure all you tax consumers don’t shove your personal agendas upon the tax payers.

  3. D. Dial

    Millage rate ha snot increased, but evaluations sure have. Mine is up well over 50% in the past ten years.

  4. Roger Hartley

    And how often are re-evaluations done in the city? Home values have in fact dropped in the last four years. While your home value was going up, something people typically celebrate did you have a reevaluation of your taxes? If not then you didn’t get a real tax increase at all. And if there were done in the last 4 years, you might likely have gotten a decrease commensurate with the drop in the value of your home.

    All beside the point. Conservatives will balk at paying any kind of tax but they also lost the election here. A one cent raise in the mileage rate is not at all unreasonable. Especially when that rate has rained there for 10 years. With inflation added, that is a 10 year tax decrease on millage rate.

    If we do not reasonably strengthen our mix of revenue sources then the city will suffer again and again with each new recession and low income from sales revenues. The occupancy tax goes to tourism and attracting it. The residents of this city have understandably asked for a better quality of life for its citizens. We need stable and reasonable revenue streams. This is one small start.

  5. Jim

    If you want a tax increase on property, then only allow those who own it to vote. Enough already of progressive out of touch government.

    Roger up above is managing to deflect a serious problem when he wants tax increases yet looks the other way at the obscene pay increases a few city employees received last year. 20K a year for some. I do not support any tax increase and I’m sure many others do not as well. Cut your spending council and that might mean your friends who benefit from the crony system in place may actually have to find a real job.

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