After two months of community pleas to defund the police, Asheville City Council will hear even more comment on the city’s spending at a public hearing for the fiscal year 2020-21 budget on Tuesday, July 28. Because the budget legally must be passed before Saturday, Aug. 1, to set a property tax rate, and because North Carolina’s virtual meeting procedures require emailed public comment to be accepted up to 24 hours after the close of a public hearing, Council will reconvene at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 30, to formally vote on the budget.
City Manager Debra Campbell first presented a budget proposal on May 26; the document included a $457,621 increase for the Asheville Police Department, with the majority slated for state-mandated retirement contributions and vehicle expenses. That was before a week of large racial justice protests, beginning May 29, amplified the voices of residents who have repeatedly called for 50% reductions in the APD budget and the reallocation of that money for investments in Black communities. Council subsequently decided to adopt a one-month interim budget on June 23 to allow for additional public input.
The latest budget proposal allocates roughly $29.9 million to continue “essential city services” through the end of September, according to a staff report by Barbara Whitehorn, the city’s chief financial officer. The remainder of the city’s general fund — nearly $105 million — will not be assigned to any department until Tuesday, Sept. 22, at which point Council expects to adopt a budget amendment.
Campbell plans to launch a community engagement process in early August to seek input about that amendment, as well as future plans for city spending. “We’re hoping that the discussion we have will not just be a one and done,” she explained during Council’s July 14 meeting. “We’re trying to get to a one-year budget and continue our conversations longer term in terms of how the budget for a number of departments evolves over the next several years. This is a conversation that will be ongoing.”
The APD represents the largest departmental line item in Campbell’s proposed general fund budget at $7,961,072. The city property tax rate of $0.4289 per $100 of assessed value remains unchanged in the proposed budget.
Other business and consent agenda
Tuesday marks the final regular meeting for Council member Vijay Kapoor, who announced his resignation in March. Kapoor was elected to Council in 2017; the city is seeking applications to fill his seat for the remainder of his term, which expires in December 2022.
The consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A resolution appointing six applicants and two alternates to the joint City County Vance Monument Task Force. Those appointees, who were not named in a staff report available at press time, will join six county-appointed members to recommend the removal or repurposing of the Vance Monument.
- Adoption of a $943,771 budget amendment to consolidate fiscal year 2019-20 funding received from Buncombe County as part of the State’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. A second budget amendment for $1.6 million will authorize expenses and revenues related to the city’s COVID-19 shelter operations.
- A resolution authoring Campbell to accept a land donation at Gash Farm Road and Azalea Road from conservation nonprofit RiverLink. The parcel, which is valued at $900, could be used to improve the intersection’s safety, according to the public works department.
The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link. Due to COVID-19, Council will meet remotely, and the meeting will be livestreamed through Asheville’s Public Engagement Hub.
Members of the public who wish to speak during the meeting must now sign up in advance at this link or by calling 828-259-5900 no later than 12:00 p.m. on Monday, July 27. City staff will then use the list of registered speakers to manage the speaker queue during the meeting.
This procedure marks a change from Council’s several most recent remote meetings, during which callers could join the speaker queue live. In a July 24 press release, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel said the move would “allow staff time to assist community members in preparing for such a meeting format.” McDaniel did not respond to a request for comment about why the city had not previously deemed preregistation necessary.
Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 9705; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilJuly282020@PublicInput.com. Emails will be accepted for 24 hours after each public hearing.