In the end, a lot comes down to money and, at its meeting on June 14, City Council will decide how to spend the city’s resources for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
As the page on the city’s website that links citizens to information about the city budget shows, the process for drafting the coming year’s plan stretches back to initial public hearings on March 22. The $161 million budget Council will consider on Tuesday night therefore contains few surprises.
Since property tax revaluations (which are overseen by the Buncombe County Tax Department, rather than by the city) won’t take place until 2017 and the property tax rate will remain unchanged for the coming year, the biggest difference city residents will notice as a result of the 2016-17 budget is an increase in city fees.
Here’s a rundown of the fees that will have the broadest impact:
- Solid waste charges will increase from $10.50 to $14 per month
- Water rates for single family, multi-family and small commercial businesses will go up 1.5 percent
- Water rates for large commercial users will rise 3.5 percent
- Stormwater management charges will increase 5 percent across the board
- The fee for registering a motor vehicle in the city will increase to $30 from $10; the projected $1.4 million in increased revenue the city will collect from this change can by state law only be used for street maintenance and construction.
Other fee increases include user fees at the Aston Park tennis courts ($22,000 overall), various charges at the WNC Nature Center (but not admission charges), fees at the U.S. Cellular Center, possible changes to parking fees and Development Services Department fees.
Changes requested by City Council to the proposed budget at Council’s May 17 meeting include:
- Approximately $800,000 in additional funds expected to be received as net income from the third quarter (which would otherwise be placed into the unrestricted fund balance) will be allocated to the Lee Walker Heights public housing redevelopment project. This allocation frees up housing funds that would have been used for Lee Walker Heights for city grants to other housing-related nonprofits.
- $130,000 to fund an additional enforcement officer and equipment for the city’s homestay short-term rental program added from an increase in Development Services revenue
- $2,000 to support the Festival of Neighborhoods
In response to public concerns expressed at the May 17 meeting, Council also asked Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper to explain the rationale for adding a second Crime Analyst to the Asheville Police Department. The proposed budget includes funding for the position. Hooper provided the following statement:
The Asheville Police Department is faced with the need to proactively anticipate and predict crime patterns and trends, appropriately and efficiently respond to criminal activity, and to employ the concepts of procedural justice in all interactions. Evidence-based policing, a nationally recognized best practice, offers a practical solution to blending the science of controlling crime and disorder with the principles of community policing and problem solving. It helps communities focus on meaningful, achievable public safety outcomes. It can also help police departments strengthen their legitimacy with the diverse communities they serve through community partnerships and input.
Crime analysis and the focus on scientifically based data are at the heart of successfully employing this practice. The causes of crime are complex, involving the persons committing the crime and the environment in which the crime is committed. A second Crime Analyst is necessary to increase the department’s ability to evolve into a more contemporary model of Evidence Based Policing by expanding analytic capability, to include predictive analysis, intelligence based analysis, link analysis etc., all of which will result in greater capacity to prevent crimes and respond appropriately to crimes that have already been committed. In addition to the second analyst, analytic software will be acquired which will improve the departments internal analytic capability as well as provide a public interface for citizen’s to directly access crime information in their neighborhoods.
The proposed budget includes $54,000 for salary, benefits and other associated costs. More details about reporting structure and qualifications will be available once the position is ready to be posted as an employment opportunity. Evidence Based Policing has been widely covered in professional and popular journals.
A second clarification released after Council’s last meeting concerns the city’s proposed Diversity and Equity Program:
Program development will include a dedicated staff member and an evaluation of the City’s efforts to equitably engage with and deliver services to the community. A disparity study will include, but not be limited to, representation on boards and commissions, public input opportunities, as well as contracting and infrastructure investments. The dedicated staff member will also conduct bench-marking research to determine how best to structure an equity program for the City.
The proposed budget includes $320,000 for a disparity study and $112,500 for salary, benefits and program costs. More details about reporting structure and qualifications will be available once the position is ready to be posted as an employment opportunity.
With Asheville experiencing a shortage of housing at all but the highest price levels, developers are continuing to bring forward new proposals for multi-family construction projects.
Public comment on a proposed apartment complex at 60 Mills Gap Rd. was originally scheduled for the June 14 meeting. The hearing on the controversial project (“South Asheville residents decry congestion, overdevelopment,” Xpress, March 31) has been continued several times; developer Rusty Pulliam has requested another continuance to June 28.
The developers of Skyland Exchange, a proposed 290-unit apartment complex to be built on two parcels of land at 55 Miami Circle and 70 Allen Ave. off Long Shoals Road, will request a zoning change. Though the current institutional zoning of the 7.66-acre Miami Circle parcel would permit 230 units by right (246 are proposed), and the smaller Allen Avenue parcel’s RM-16 zoning would permit 65 units (44 are proposed), the developer wishes to spread the units more evenly over the two parcels. Thus, the developer, Miami Made, LLC, is seeking institutional conditional zoning for both parcels.
The larger parcel at 55 Miami Circle is currently a mobile home park with 55 units. Those residents will be displaced by the new development. The average lease at the park is $225 per month, which is far lower than even designated affordable housing rents. As a staff memo to Council explains, “This considerable disparity between what is considered to be ‘affordable’ verses the low rents which serve a specific population of City residents that will be lost through this development demonstrates the concerning displacement of a population that will not be easily re-served and re-housed.”
The rezoning application was considered and unanimously approved by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission on May 4. Several residents of the Miami Circle mobile home park and several nonprofit agencies working to find alternate housing for the displaced residents testified before the Commission. At that meeting, the developer agreed to place $250,000 into a city-held fund to assist the mobile home park residents; subsequently, the arrangement was modified to disburse the funds directly to individual residents. The developer also agreed to dedicate 10 percent of the units as affordable housing for residents earning 80 percent of the area median income for a term of 15 years; city staff has recommended that the developer increase that commitment to 20 percent of the units.
City staff also recommends that the developer extend a planned sidewalk from the edge of the Miami Circle property southward along Miami Circle to connect to Long Shoals Road, but the developer has not agreed to this condition.
Council will hear public comment on the rezoning proposal.
Board and Commission appointments
Council will review applications for a number of city boards and commissions. Council may directly appoint applicants, or it may determine which candidates it will interview for the positions. Vacancies exist on the following city boards:
- ADU Task Force
- African American Advisory Commission
- Airport Authority
- Citizens-Police Advisory Committee
- Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
- Historic Resources Commission
- Multimodal Transportation Commission
- Neighborhood Advisory Committee
- Public Art & Cultural Commission
- WNC Regional Air Quality Agency
Council will proclaim June 16-25 “Pollination Celebration Week.”
A quarterly update on the I-26 Connector project will be presented.
Council will vote on a consent agenda which includes, among other items:
- A contract for the demolition of the city-owned building at 33-35 Page Ave. for the amount of $115,000 with 4 Seasons Site & Demo Inc.
- Appointment of former Vice Mayor Marc Hunt to the Mills River Partnership Board of Directors
- $35,000 in onetime funding for the community-based violence prevention group Changing Together to help offset the loss of the program’s primary grant funding
City Council will meet at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall. The full agenda, along with supporting documents, can be found here.