Nesbitt, Durant and Gibson talk economics at today’s CIBO meeting

N.C. Sen. Martin Nesbitt, City CFO Ben Durant and Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center’s Philip Gibson spoke at the March 12 Council of Independent Business Owners issues meeting, held at Biltmore Square Mall. Xpress reporter David Frobes covered the meeting via Twitter. Below are his tweets, lightly edited:

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Phil Gibson, on Warren Wilson tells the audience, “I know many consider us the hippie, granola-munching college, but we are a business.” Gibson notes that the Homebuilder’s Association is cooperating [with Warren Wilson] to weatherize homes of low-income families. He notes that the Mountain Green conference, approaching its 4th year, is staying steady “while many conferences are tanking.”  The conference takes place June 23 all day @ Warren Wilson (http://mountaingreenwnc.org )

Ben Durant says: City is “at financial crossroads”; it has systemic budget issues. One major issue is the Sullivan Act, which imposes limitations on Asheville using water service as a tool for annexation by charging higher water rates outside city limits. Another major issue is the fact that the hotel tax goes directly to the Tourism Development Authority, instead of the city.

Durant says: Due to the recession, we’re “not going to see growth in property-tax base”; the city’s credit will be limited for years to come. To deal with challenges, we “may have to look hard” at increasing property taxes or cutting services. Asheville can offer “lower tax, lower services” or “higher services, relatively higher taxes.” The city has reduced an estimated $5 million deficit in the next fiscal year budget to $3 million, but further reductions will involve cuts, hard choices.

Durant, responding to a question of what city can cut: “Some things we have to provide”; we have less options than private business. The city is looking at payroll options. “If there’s less construction, it may affect the number of inspectors.” The city has identified $500,000-700,000 in health-care savings, one of its biggest costs.

NC Sen and Dem Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt: “If we don’t get this economy moving before long, we’re going to be in even deeper trouble.” He says he is “focused like a laser on jobs and economy.” The state finances are “not in bad shape, but not in good shape.”

Nesbitt: The state banking commissioner is “an advocate for the banks, as opposed to just a regulator.”  Federal regulators locked smaller state banks down, hampered making loans. But now, in “Obama’s jobs bill,” $1.7 billion is coming to smaller N.C. banks for jobs loans. The state is “marshaling all our resources” to help small businesses get loans. Funds from the feds could be leveraged into $20 billion in loans to small businesses. The stimulus program is “not designed to provide private sector jobs… it’s designed to keep the economy from collapsing.” Without federal stimulus funds, North Carolina “would have had no choice but to close public schools,” and other fundamental functions. “We would have had a Great Depression, we were that close to the brink.”

Gibson suggests that the state use its purchasing power to buy local food, furniture etc. Nesbitt adds that new bidding rules make it easier for N.C. companies to get state contracts. Nesbitt says we need to help “Good government spend money on the people we tax.”

Nesbitt says, “I keep hearing this chatter that ‘the unions are coming’ [but] I hear we need jobs of any kind.” Haywood, Transylvania counties were once the most unionized in the state, Nesbitt says. “Labor being organized has done some good things in the mountains.”

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