Police and firefighters packed Asheville City Council chambers tonight, demanding a higher raise than the 1 percent set forth in the proposed budget. A suggested property-tax hike to pay for the increase failed 4-3, with Council members asserting that it needed more consideration.
Representatives of city firefighters and police officers said that while there hasn’t been a raise for staff in three years, they hadn’t pressed the issue, knowing the city was facing financial challenges. But they felt that the prposed 1 percent cost-of-living increase wasn’t sufficient, and instead asked for a 4 percent pay increase.
Mayor Terry Bellamy called for Council to commit to a raise immediately, proposing that the city should defer capital projects to get the necessary funds. “People are more important than buildings,” she asserted. Council member Cecil Bothwell broached the possibility of a small property tax increase to raise the necessary funds. But other Council members, while expressing a desire to find funds for the raise, wanted more deliberation before deciding how to accomplish that goal. Council member Gordon Smith warned against “shooting from the hip.”
Council member Chris Pelly proposed a 1-cent tax increase to pay for $1 million in additional staff compensation. The measure failed by one vote, although Bothwell and Bellamy joined Pelly’s push. Council committed to an additional budget work session to try and figure out a way to generate funds for a bigger raise for city staff. Council member Marc Hunt, who voted against the increase, said that he didn’t feel comfortable voting on a tax hike that wasn’t on Council’s agenda beforehand.
• Unanimously approved a ban on future digital billboards in the city of Asheville.
• Unanimously approved financing for 62 units of affordable housing in the Eagle/Market Street area, in the form of a loan the city would secure from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Heard a report on a search for a new evidence-room manager for the Asheville Police Department from Chief William Anderson. The evidence room has improved security and surveillance, Anderson also said, though he refused to divulge further details, citing an ongoing investigation into missing guns, drugs and money.