Uncertainty still reigns in Asheville’s budget process

Council member Marc Hunt brandishes a copy of the city’s proposed budget during the meeting Tuesday night. Yet another budget plan may be in the works as Council believes a recreation authority that could save them millions is unlikely to get state approval. Photo by Max Cooper.

The public got a chance to weigh in on the city’s proposed $143 million budget at tonight’s Asheville City Council meeting. Some were critical of the priorities laid out and a proposed 1 cent tax increase.

But during Council’s discussion, members revealed yet another budget plan may be in the works, with higher property taxes, as they believe state legislators are unlikely to allow Asheville and Buncombe County to form a Culture and Recreations Authority that could save millions. The city’s proposed budget assumed that authority would be forthcoming, and that the city will retain control of its water system, currently tied up in a court battle with the state.

Previous draft budgets had included such assumptions as using the estimated $2.5 million in savings from the new authority to help cover $11 million in debts and creating an economic-development fund that would tackle a laundry list of priorities from infrastructure to affordable housing to improving the Asheville Art Museum. If state legislators don’t approve the new authority, the city would have to abandon those budget plans or fund them with a property tax increase of 4 cents per $100 or more. Some, like Council member Gordon Smith, said the goals are necessary for Asheville to be an “aspirational city” and not a stagnant one. But Council member Chris Pelly was concerned about the combined tax burden, given that Buncombe commissioners will likely approve a tax increase as well, due to declining property values.

They weren’t alone. During the public hearing, mayoral candidate John Miall expressed concern that while a new parks-and-rec authority might save the city coffers, it would still cost taxpayers who would have to pay for its upkeep. Saul Chase also criticized the budget, especially the art museum improvements, asserting that “the job of City Council isn’t to improve non-profits’ ability to get money.”

Council member Marc Hunt said he’d like to have city staff bring forward a “Plan B” in case the recreation authority looks like a faint possibility. Council is currently scheduled to vote on the budget at its June 25 meeting, and must pass a budget before July 1.

• Council also approved $1.5 million in incentives for Project X, an unspecified company that promises to bring 52 good-paying jobs to the area by 2017. Unusually, the project remained secret even during the vote (though The Asheville Tribune and Asheville Citizen-Times have reported that it’s GE”s aviation division.

The incentives package passed 5-1, with Council member Cecil Bothwell strongly denouncing the proposal, opposing both the secrecy and the idea of economic incentives for powerful corporations.


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.

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.