It was only a few months ago — September, to be exact — that Asheville City Council approved its fiscal year 2020-21 budget as the city grappled with overlapping health and social justice crises.
“As you know, our city budget is usually adopted by July 1. But as you also know, last year was a very unusual year,” said City Manager Debra Campbell during Council’s May 25 meeting.
While the proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget is on track to meet this year’s deadline, some Council members have raised concerns over Campbell’s recommendations, particularly regarding reparations funding, a proposed property tax increase and the use of savings from police vacancies.
Mayor Esther Manheimer pointed out that $1.7 million of approximately $9.9 million in new city spending would be funded with expected salary savings from roughly 70 unfilled positions within the Asheville Police Department. Once those positions are filled, she pointed out, the money would not be available to cover recurring expenses in subsequent years.
“[The fundings is] eventually going to dwindle down,” acknowledged Tony McDowell, the city’s finance director. “We can probably count on some savings from vacancies for the next couple of years, but eventually that savings is going to be used up by having to fill positions. It’s kind of a hybrid between a one-time and an ongoing source [of revenue].”
McDowell did not provide a plan for how the city would cover the new expenses once all police positions had been filled. Manheimer asked city staff to parse out ongoing and one-time costs and revenues and reevaluate the budget in light of that information.
Meanwhile, Council member Antanette Mosley noted community concerns about the $1.2 million allocated in the budget for Asheville’s reparations initiative. She explained that she’d received emails from several residents who believed that the investment would be covered by the city’s proposed tax hike of 3 cents per $100 in property value, which may disproportionately impact Black communities as a result of Buncombe County’s recent property revaluation.
“There’s been quite a bit of consternation about — this is the language in the community — raising taxes, particularly on Black folks, to help pay for reparations,” Mosely said.
McDowell said that the reparations funding would be drawn from the city’s fiscal reserves, not the new money generated by the tax increase. However, the bulk of the money that would eventually replenish those reserves consists of property tax revenue.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will take place on Tuesday, June 8, during the regularly scheduled Council meeting. The final vote on whether to adopt the budget will take place on Tuesday, June 22.
In other news
Council members voted 6-0 in support of a $2.5 million purchase of downtown property at 50 Asheland Ave. The nonprofit Dogwood Health Trust will contribute $1.25 million toward the purchase, with city funds covering the remainder.
The property borders the Asheville Rides Transit bus station at 49 Coxe Ave. and is earmarked for a “transit-oriented development” that would combine a larger transit center with affordable housing and commercial space. Manheimer recused herself from the vote due to an unspecified conflict of interest.