The city has jumped through a series of state-mandated hoops to get to this point. Now all that separates City Council from approving a $74 million bond referendum package is a public hearing and a series of votes, all of which are on the agenda for Council’s regular meeting on Aug. 9.
July 26 was the deadline for the city to adjust the amount it hopes to borrow in each category, city Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn said on Friday. At its upcoming meeting, Council members will decide whether to put the $32 million transportation, $25 million affordable housing and $17 million parks and recreation funding packages before voters.
If Council approves all three of those categories, Whitehorn explained, current projections indicate that an increase of 4.15 cents to the current city property tax rate of 47.5 cents per $100,000 of property value will be needed to pay for the new debt. The average house in Asheville is worth $275,000, so the increase would add about $114 to that owner’s annual property taxes.
But the tax rate implications of one variable — a county-wide tax revaluation currently underway — won’t be known until January. Whitehorn said her projections are based on a 1.5 percent increase in the total value of property in the city. If property values grow more than 1.5 percent, the tax rate increase needed to pay for the bonds would be lower, but that’s because the taxes overall would rise more.
The situation of each individual property is different, said Whitehorn, making it difficult to predict the tax impact of the bond on any specific taxpayer.
An overview of the projects Council and city staff have proposed for each bond category is available on the city’s blog. At Council’s July 26 meeting, Council member Gordon Smith asked his fellow members to weigh in on their “appetite” for including funding for updating or replacing the city’s transit center in the transportation bond package.
Whitehorn explained that feasibility or planning studies (which haven’t yet been performed for renovating or replacing the transit center) are generally not approved for bond funding by the Local Government Commission, except as part of a larger project. The amount of funding in the transportation package, she continued, could not at that point be increased. But the city does have flexibility in how the money is used, as long as money in each category is used for projects in that category.
Other Council members expressed support for exploring measures to improve the transit center, but Mayor Esther Manheimer sounded a note of caution, saying “It’s important to have community trust that we will spend the money on what we say we will spend it on.”
Included within the documents for the Aug. 9 meeting of Council is a proposal from city Transportation Director Ken Putnam to allocate $1 million of the $32 million transportation bond funds to renovate the existing transit center facility. The money would come, Putnam writes in a memo, from “removing one new sidewalk project (Patton Avenue gaps – $616,000) and reducing the funding for Greenway connectors, linkages, and extensions by $384,000 to make up the $1,000,000.”
Council’s consent agenda includes a resolution to renew the city’s contract to provide policing in Asheville’s 11 public housing neighborhoods in conjunction with the city housing authority. The previous agreement, which expired in 2015, provided a police unit of nine sworn officers. The city bears the cost of five of those officers ($330,000), while the housing authority reimburses the city for the salary and benefit costs associated with four of the officers ($260,000).
Council also will consider a $25,000 funding request from The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design to support a market analysis regarding artist housing and creative spaces uses for the Center’s facilities, to be conducted by Artspace, a nonprofit that has developed artist live/work space throughout the country.
According to a memo prepared by Jeff Staudinger, the city’s assistant director of community and economic development:
The proposed cost of the study is $98,325. Partner commitments to funding include $10,000 from State Senator Terry Van Duyn and $10,000 from the Duke Energy Foundation pending City and County financial support. The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina has invited a $25,000 grant request. Should the City agree to the $25,000 funding request, CCCD would move forward with the first phase, at a cost of $44,850, and continue fundraising to achieve the full two-part study.
Council plans to appoint a member to the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment (SACEE) after interviewing three candidates prior to Council’s regular meeting. Other board and commission openings include the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the Recreation Board and the Tourism Development Authority (must be an owner or operator of a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or vacation rental management company with less than 100 rental units). The deadline to apply is Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. Call 259-5601 for an application form.
A previously scheduled public hearing to consider an amendment to Chapter 7 of the Code of Ordinances to establish requirements for utility substations has been continued to Sept. 6.
City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of Asheville City Hall. The full agenda and supporting documents can be found here.