Council says yes to $74 million bond; voters to choose in November

The roof of Asheville City Hall.

As she introduced Asheville’s proposed general obligation bond referendum for discussion, Mayor Esther Manheimer pointed out that the specifics of the three bond packages — $32 million for transportation infrastructure, $25 million for affordable housing and $17 million for parks & recreation — had been hashed out in several previous worksessions and meetings. And during the short public hearing that followed, it did indeed seem that most bond supporters as well as opponents viewed the outcome of Tuesday evening’s vote as a foregone conclusion. All seven members of City Council agreed to put the $74 million question to Asheville voters in November.

Voters will be able to cast a separate vote for each of the three bond categories. If all of the bond measures are approved, Manheimer explained, city tax payers will see a maximum property tax increase of 4.1 cents over the current city tax rate of 47.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would result in an increase of $110 for a $275,000 home, she said.

A property tax revaluation currently underway could result in a smaller tax rate increase if property values increase more than 1.5 percent overall, city Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn said in an interview prior to Tuesday’s meeting. The results of the revaluation will not be available until January, she said.

Retired attorney Sidney Bach, who voiced objections to the bond in two previous meetings of Council, called the public hearing “window dressing, in collaboration with certain unelected city staff, to foist a poorly planned and unnecessary pie-in-the-sky $110 million financial burden upon the city and its residents for years and years to come.” In citing the $110 million figure, Bach spoke of the bond principal amount as well as the interest charges that would be added to it during the bond period.

The bond proposal, Bach said, does not include any funding for fire, police, emergency services, teachers or schools. “Where are your priorities?” he asked Council.

Manheimer responded that a fourth category that would have provided funds for repairs to city fire and police stations was included within the original bond package city staff presented to Council. Manheimer said Council reached the consensus that, while fire and police services account for nearly half of the city’s budget and are important to Council, funding for those projects wasn’t the right fit for the bond issue. Also, she said, “My understanding is that we can’t use this money for teachers or schools.”

Another possible use for bond funds, a $1 million update to the city’s transit center on Coxe Avenue, was removed from consideration after the city learned that the project didn’t meet the state’s requirements, Manheimer said. Prior to the meeting, Councilmember Gordon Smith said that the project was not far enough along in the planning stage to meet state requirements for bond measures.

Betty Council said she hopes that the city’s African-American community, which makes up about 13 percent of the city’s population, will benefit proportionately from the bond funding.

Greg Borom of Children First/Communities in Schools and Timothy Sadler spoke in favor of the $25 million affordable housing package. Borom urged Council to look closely at housing for those making 30 percent of area median income, saying that more attention had been paid to those making at least 60 percent of median income.

Smith said that, during the 2015 Council election, members of the community had shared the issues and needs that are most important to them. The bond referendum, he said, will “allow people to decide whether to accelerate toward those issues they’ve communicated to us.” Councilmember Cecil Bothwell expressed a similar sentiment, saying the bond referendum is an opportunity to “let the people in the community decide if they want to take this on.”

During the public comment session, former Councilmember and Vice Mayor Chris Peterson spoke strongly in opposition to the bond referendum, calling it “a $75 million Ponzi bond.” Over the past eight years, he said, Council has “taxed and fee-d us to death.” Council’s claims that the bond funding will help poor people are “bull,” he said. “The average person in Asheville earns $28,000… You’ve got people all over this government making over $200,000. That’s very wrong.”

Other business

Council approved its consent agenda unanimously. A previously-scheduled hearing on a zoning ordinance amendment to introduce screening standards for utility substations was continued until Council’s next meeting on Sept. 6. The delay, Manheimer said, would give more time for “community conversations” on substation plans for downtown Asheville.

The body appointed Bridget Herring to the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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29 thoughts on “Council says yes to $74 million bond; voters to choose in November

  1. bsummers

    “Voters to choose in November”?!?

    But that’s unfair to Lulz.

    • The Real World

      Don’t think Lulz will care. He/she previously claimed to be a Black Mtn resident. But we might get a verbal lashing and a few LOL’s and lulzings for good measure.

      • Lulz

        LOL, you two can go kick people out of their homes when they can’t pay. Better hope “progressives” pass more laws so you can FEEL safe because I’m pretty sure the days of complying with them are just about over. Simply because thieves, robbers, and crooks whether in government or not, are still thieves, robbers, and crooks. The only difference is one groups hides behind “laws” that they pass.

  2. luther blissett

    Apparently Chris Peterson thinks “Ponzi scheme” means something different than what it actually means. For some reason, I’m not convinced by his new self-assigned role as defender of those paid less than a living wage. He’s much more convincing as a permanently-aggrieved landlord wanting the maximum payout for the least work. (The 12 Bones owners seem fairly excited to relocate down Old Lyman St: “It’s a bigger, better place. This is what we needed to grow.”)

    “The bond proposal, Bach said, does not include any funding for fire, police, emergency services, teachers or schools.”

    As the mayor noted, local school funding is funded separately, while the public safety budget essentially accounts for every single dollar raised from property taxes, leaving the rest of the city’s spending to come from other revenues.

    I’m glad the transit center stuff got tossed, and it had better not come back to the project list like a zombie if the bond is passed. I’m still opposed on principle to the affordable housing component, and it deserves some proper scrutiny before the vote. The worst-case scenario is that private developers see the council as an eager and credulous source of cheap loans and incentives as long as they play the “affordable housing” card, and we’ll end up with more projects that have the same budgeting woes and potential sunk costs as Eagle Market Place, with the same risk that the finished units won’t be affordable at all. If we’re talking about a 20-year bond, it would be galling if city-financed private developments switched over to market rents after 10 or 15 years while city taxpayers were still covering debt service. Do the existing developments like the Glen Rock Apartments have a legally binding multi-year requirement to provide affordable rents, at least for the time they’re repaying city loans?

    (In case anyone’s unclear about my position, if $25m were to be spent on affordable housing I’d prefer the city to build it and own it and remain accountable for it throughout.)

    • Lulz

      LOL, and let me add people like Council coming out with demands to money is an example of just how much of a farce the bond issue is. And it should make people that have to actually work mad as hell that they are being fleeced out of even more money for nothing but handouts to those that don’t. The entitlement mentality is a disgrace lulz.

      • luther blissett

        I believe that “Lulz” is implying that the African-American population of Asheville does not “actually work”, which is both a lie, a misrepresentation of what Ms Council said (a hope isn’t a demand) and kinda racist. It’s strange, because “Lulz” LOL lulz lol has repeatedly whined about the city spending large sums of money on renovating the Art Museum, which is basically a public subsidy for affluent “patron of the arts” folks who like wine & finger food receptions.

        FWIW, the parks & rec component of the bond invests in some of the city’s lower-income communities, particularly the recreation expansion to the Grant Community Center. I have no problem with that: safe and affordable recreation should be available for all, and the people who argue against it tend to be the ones who complain loudest about kids wandering the streets because there’s nothing for them to do.

        • ApePeeD

          > the African-American population of Asheville does not “actually work”

          Deeeeeeeaverview!

      • HRH

        Please write City Council and TELL THEM what a problem all this entitlement BS is for all TAXPAYERS in AVL !!!\

        ashevillenccouncil@ashevillenc.gov write them now, write them often, and send them links to all the criminality going

        on with people running for office, etc…

    • ApePeeD

      The transit center was the only thing worthwhile of the three proposals.

  3. HRH

    Peterson is exactly RIGHT !!! THANKS for saying it !!! After DECADES of pathetic non ‘leadership’ with crumbling infrastructure, NOW these elected thieves want $74 MILLION new DEBT for us to pay back while we have ZERO guarantees that they nor their successors will spend the money wisely. How many millions will be wasted? Oh yeah and about those salaries ??? just look what democrackkk bureaucrats like Mary Grant at UNC-A gets paid as ‘chancellor’, a totally UNNEEDED ‘position’ . Democrackkks are
    EVIL thieves of YOUR money.

  4. HRH

    the 2nd democrackkk forced bond SCAM within one year for Asheville…

    Did you EVER wonder WHY democrackkk party history is NEVER taught in government screwls ? many reasons …

    Don’t miss the new movie ‘Hillary’s America’ now playing at the Carmike over by Target.

  5. Austin Hill

    Does anyone know how to see if a developer has received city or county funds? A developer named Kirk Booth put in a bunch of low income housing units in my old neighborhood and now there is constant huge piles of trash and home goods and it has destroyed the character of the neighborhood. They all leave their trash bins way out in the street and if trash falls out it stays there until nature takes it away. I can’t tell that he has spent one dollar since the initial investment other than mowing. If the bond referendum is going towards that then there is no way anyone should or would back it.

  6. Mike

    “the current city tax rate of 47.5 cents per $100,000 of assessed value.”

    So tax on a house assessed at $1,000,000 is $475?? I don’t think so.

    • Virginia Daffron

      Mike, math is my Achilles’ heel! No excuses though–I believe I should have said per $100 of assessed value. Will change the article, and thanks for pointing that out.

  7. Fin

    Tax and spend , raise fees and spend. Of course these things don’t have any connection to affordability in this town….don’t be so insensitive, we will get a hundred affordable homes at the expense of thousands. Wait till this housing market bursts again, the people of this town will suffer from the ignorant decisions of our council.

    • luther blissett

      “we will get a hundred affordable homes at the expense of thousands.”

      You have a point, though not the one you think you’re making. The city should be borrowing more, building more, and retaining housing as public assets.

      Mostly though, cry me a river. If you own property in Asheville, you can afford an extra $2 a week in (deductible) property taxes towards projects that need to be done, and ought to be done quickly. If you want to live off a potholed gravel track that washes out when it rains, move to Candler or Fletcher. They’ll even let you burn your trash.

      “Wait till this housing market bursts again, the people of this town will suffer from the ignorant decisions of our council.”

      Hold your breath and let us know when it’s time to exhale.

  8. HRH

    Oh yeah…

    There’s a new media outlet just ‘launched’ that is seeking ‘unreported’ information about all sorts of untold news around AVL!
    so now when you think or know of something that needs investigating or reporting, send it along to them! Wish I’d thought of this!

    http://www.ashevilleunreported.com

    • bsummers

      This is not “new”. This is a just another Roger McCredie/Tribune ‘attack the City from all fronts’ site.

      • HRH

        not new? but good for him because the thieving City Council NEEDS EXPOSING every way possible !

        will NOT be voting for ANY of the Bond SCAM! hope it totally FAILS for the good of the taxpayers!

        • Austin Hill

          Asheville is a joke, a city full of rich transients who have a poor people problem. So we screw the middle class. Now that bloggers have outed the best nature spots, there is hardly any reason to remain.

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