Asheville City Council will try to make sense of its latest citizen poll at its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11. But reading tea leaves or interpreting astrological omens might give equally clear answers on whether Asheville voters prefer to stay with the current at-large arrangement for picking representatives on City Council or to move to some form of district-based elections.
A bill to impose districts on the city introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 by retiring Senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville came close to succeeding. Apodaca’s successor, Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville, took up the cause and notified Mayor Esther Manheimer of his plans to file a new bill creating districts for Council elections this year. Edwards’ 48th district includes a small area of the city of Asheville.
Saying their constituents had voiced little to no interest in making a change to the way representatives are elected, Council decided on Feb. 28 to move forward with a $10,000 telephone survey to gauge public support for different options.
Edwards made good on his promise by filing Senate Bill 285 on March 15. The bill requires, “By November 1, 2017, the City of Asheville shall amend its charter to create electoral districts governing the nomination and election of City Council members. Electoral districts established pursuant to this section shall be for use in the 2019 municipal elections.” If the city fails to create its own districting scheme, the bill continues, Council members would be elected from six districts. Candidates would have to run in and represent the district in which they live, and each district would get one seat. The mayor would continue to be elected at large.
The poll queried 403 registered Asheville voters over three evenings, March 20-22. According to Campaign Research + Strategy of Columbia, S.C., which conducted the survey, both landline and cellphone numbers were included. Voters were randomly selected to be representative of voter turnout during recent elections, the pollster’s summary reports, and the poll has a 4.9 percent margin of error.
But figuring out what Asheville voters think based on the survey results is a real head-scratcher.
When asked whether Asheville should keep its current at-large voting arrangements for all members of City Council and the mayor, 54 percent of voters said yes, while 34 percent said no and 12 percent weren’t sure.
But when asked if they would vote yes in favor of single-member districts for every member of Council if such a question appeared on a ballot, 54 percent of voters said they would — the same percentage that said they favored retaining the current system. To that question, 35 percent said no and 11 percent were unsure.
Later in the survey, 58 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “I don’t want to change the way we elect members of City Council. I like being able to cast a vote for every seat on City Council.” The same percentage said they favored holding a referendum on the issue.
No doubt different factions will offer different spins on what this all means, but if Council had hoped the poll would reveal a clearcut majority opinion, it must be disappointed. The full report from the polling consultant is available here.
Aside from weighing the poll results, the only other matter on Council’s plate for the April 11 meeting is approving its consent agenda.
Council will vote on whether to approve its 2017-18 Strategic Project Fund grants. For more information on Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee’s review of those grant requests from city nonprofits, see City Council subcommittee reviews nonprofit funding requests.
A $339,950 contract with Patton Construction Company would update the elevators in the Civic Center Parking Garage.
Two resolutions involve city efforts to seek reimbursement to offset increased firefighting costs during last year’s active wildfire season.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.
Budget work session
Prior to Council’s regular meeting, it will hold the third of three work sessions dedicated to formulating the city’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget. The work session will take place at 3 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
According to a memo from city Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn, the meeting will cover three main topics:
Property Tax Rate and GO Bonds Review – Staff will provide a brief review of the revenue neutral rate and the implementation of the GO Bonds.
Operating Budget Review – Staff will present a review of the operating budget direction from Council received at the March 14 and 28 meetings. This discussion will include Council operating budget priorities, inclusions in the base budget, and recurring and non-recurring expenditures.
Capital Program and Budget Discussion – Following the review of the operating budget, staff will provide a details on the 2017-18 capital budget priorities and the major building blocks of the capital program. The existing 5-year capital plan will be reviewed with a discussion of projects that have changed in scope, cost or timing.
The city’s current fiscal year will end on June 30. In its new budget, the city must fix on a property tax rate that takes Buncombe County’s recent property revaluation into account, as well as the costs associated with the $74 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2016.
For more of the latest city and county news check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.