Emotions high as Asheville City Council raises specter of sharp service cuts

To hear Asheville City Council and city staff tell it, a manageable budget gap is now a potential crisis, thanks to proposed state legislation affecting areas from the water system to business licenses. To close the $5.9 million gap, staff have proposed sharp cuts in everything from public safety to transit to parks and recreation. At a special town hall meeting today, city residents exhorted Council against certain cuts and criticized state legislators (and occasionally the city too).

The city had planned the meeting before local Reps. Chuck McGrady, Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey filed a bill to forcibly transfer the water system to MSD. But that legislation, combined with proposed statewide measures targeting privilege licenses along with beer and wine excise taxes, leaves the city in a bad situation. A $2.2 million gap staff planned to manage through a combination of increased fees (mainly for trash) and smaller cuts becomes an anticipated $5.9 million gap. According to finance chief Lauren Bradley, the city survived the recession by cutting its “low-hanging fruit,” deferring needed long-term projects and occasionally using reserve funds. Now, drastic action will be required if the proposed legislation goes through.

How drastic? If the city doesn’t raise property taxes, staff proposed a series of major cuts, such as closing the WNC Nature Center, closing a fire station, stopping Saturday bus service, ending all youth and adult athletic programs, stopping Bele Chere this year, closing city pools and reducing police overtime, among other measures.

Some legislators, including Ramsey, have claimed they want to find ways to make up the financial loss to cities, but Bradley said the city has to start with a conservative estimate of the budget issues it might have to deal with.

More than 100 people packed the U.S. Cellular Center banquet hall, and during almost two hours of public comment, many spoke. They wanted the Aston Park tennis courts open, the nature center intact, and for Ashevilleans to still be able to ride the bus to work on Saturday. Transit committee chair Julie Mayfield told Council that the bus “is not a luxury” for many people who depend on it to work.

Itiyopiya Ewart, a Hillcrest resident, sounded a similar note, saying that without transit, residents faced further difficulties on top of the already daunting obstacles to a good job.

Asheville resident Mike Lewis claimed the legislation is part of a larger move to destroy cities’ independence, and runs the risk of the “degeneration of the Paris of the South into the Detroit of the South.”

John Miall, the city’s former director of risk management and current mayoral candidate, took aim at the city as well, asserting that the cuts should focus more on administrative positions and less on service cuts that will effect the average citizen.

“The pain is not felt across the board,” he said. “Council can do better.”

Guillermo Rodriguez, chair of the city’s Bele Chere committee, said that decisions by city staff about the fate of festivals and parks and recreation facilities were being made too quickly, without transparency and consideration of the consequences, and endanger a system built over three decades.

Mayor Terry Bellamy compared the state’s approach to “death by a thousand cuts,” slowly putting the city in an impossible position. If the state will simply take local infrastructure, she asserted, cities have no reason to invest in it.

Council member Gordon Smith said that Asheville is a prosperous city, not asking for handouts from the General Assembly, “just asking that you take the boot off our necks.”

Multiple Council members asked citizens to write to their legislators, and Chris Pelly added that it was time to plan a date to “pack the buses and head to Raleigh.”

Due to the increased uncertainty in the budget situation, Council will hold an additional April 23 work session, and delay passage of the budget to June 11.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

3 thoughts on “Emotions high as Asheville City Council raises specter of sharp service cuts

  1. DeShawn Pugh

    David, the meeting was at the U.S. Cellular Center.

    If anyone thinks that Moffit, Apadoka, and Ramsey will back off –it’s not happening.

  2. William

    Looks like the starry eyed dreamers of Asheville are starting to face reality as the chickens not only come home to roost, but are falling out of the trees.

    Yes folks, the good money times are starting to dry up, even in Asheville.

    Google Stockton, California, do some research on their impending bankruptcy. See if you can find parallels between their problems and Asheville.

    With the near $17,000,000,000,000.00 in Federal debt, states will get less and less and so will local municipalities.

    In the life of a (money) drunken sailor the party DOES end. (How about another $350,000.00 to finish off that golf course irrigation system?)

  3. William

    Here is the link. Interesting article.


    I don’t expect this post to get approved by MX staff, but it would be nice if they wrote something about what is happening in other cash strapped locales to give a little perspective to the Asheville angst.

    Also think Detroit, Jefferson County, AL, etc.

    Not saying this is going to happen in Asheville, but connect the dots and see what happens when you overspend.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.