Safety, transit concerns raised at first Asheville budget meeting

HEATING UP: Asheville City Council held its first public input session on city budget priorities Feb. 28. Community member Tom Tesser was among several commenters who demanded higher pay for police officers and increased city response to issues such as homelessness, crime and downtown uncleanliness. Screen capture courtesy of the city of Asheville

Tempers ran high during public comment on Asheville’s budget priorities during a Feb. 28 meeting of City Council. A majority of commenters railed against the city’s responses to homelessness, petty crime and downtown uncleanliness as they demanded higher pay and better benefits for police. 

“We’ve done a lot of work. We have begged, appealed, pleaded, cajoled, implored, solicited for you to take action to make Asheville safer. We’ve been doing it for months,” said Asheville resident Tom Tesser, who asked that the city invest more money in the Asheville Police Department. “[City Manager] Debra Campbell, I’m calling you out!”

“I would like you to treat people with respect,” Mayor Esther Manheimer shot back. 

“For folks who are speaking, please restrain yourself. Don’t point at us. Just make your comments to us. These are policy issues. This is a policymaking body,” the mayor continued. “Let’s try to restore some civility to this.”

Tesser was one of several commenters from the Asheville Coalition for Public Safety, a recently formed advocacy group that looks to build support for the APD. Five of the nine speakers on budget matters sought larger salaries for police officers and shared their personal experiences of downtown crime and safety issues.

The remaining four speakers included Asheville resident Andrew Clark, who advocated for improvements to McCormick Field and support for local veterans, and community member Sandy Aldridge, who pushed for more city transit funding. 

“I would like for the Council to approve funds that were already approved in the past for city transit, because every year, there’s more needed,” said Aldridge. “If that is not done, to me, that’s the city saying, ‘We don’t care about you.’”

In her comments, community member and activist Grace Barron-Martinez praised the city’s effort to include members of the public in the budget discussions early on. But she also voiced concerns about ensuring vulnerable community members could share their input.

“The way that we’re doing this process is going to attract very specific people. If we don’t have total or at least 80% participation from city residents, we’re not going to get a true picture of how people feel in the community,” she said. “And those with the most privilege are going to have the time to organize.”

Campbell noted that the city’s online survey on budget priorities had been available since Feb. 6. Due to requests from residents, she continued, the survey would remain open for an additional week beyond its initially planned deadline of March 3; responses are now open until midnight Friday, March 10. Nearly 2,000 people had participated through March 1.

As of the morning of Feb. 28, Campbell said, approximately 13% of survey respondents who shared their race were people of color. (According to U.S. census data, roughly 17% of Asheville residents are of a racial minority or biracial.) She also said that paper versions of the survey had been distributed in community centers in historically Black neighborhoods and that both English and Spanish copies were available at city recreation centers.

“Tonight is a kind of a milestone moment for us in that we have never had an opportunity for public comment on the budget process this early,” Campbell said. “We have a challenge for you, community. We also invite you that are in the audience, that are watching, to share the survey with your networks.”

The timeline for this year’s budget process includes three Council work sessions, starting Tuesday, March 14, at which no public comment will be permitted. The proposed budget will be published Friday, May 5, and presented officially to Council Tuesday, May 9, with a public hearing slated for Tuesday, May 23. The final vote on whether to adopt the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13.


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11 thoughts on “Safety, transit concerns raised at first Asheville budget meeting

  1. sinkhole

    Haha, of course the spokeperson for the pro-cop group is a halfback from Florida who retired to Asheville 😂

    • WNC

      If you are criticizing someone for moving to Asheville/ Buncombe can we assume you were born here?

      • sinkhole

        Sure, but this is not a criticism–I am making fun of him for fulfilling the stereotype of the out-of-town retiree who moves here and then demands that the town conforms to his expectations, like the NY retirees I used to encounter when I worked in the grocery store complaining about the checkout lanes being in the wrong direction. It is very amusing to me and seems appropriate that the spokesperson for the copaganda group conforms to this stereotype.

      • Richard B.

        I believe that we may also assume that Sink is all in for the nationwide crime surge, not surprising to those who recognize basic human nature. Take away consequences, – no charges, no bail, official condemnation of law enforcement, – and this is what you get.

  2. Taxpayer

    He’s not wrong, though. Asheville is such a mess it’s almost beyond repair.

  3. Shultz!

    Rudeness and disrespect – a surefire way to get people to open up to what you’re selling. Dale Carnegie has a book you might want to read, Mr. Tesser.

    Silliness aside, if we only have 150 of 240 officer positions filled because we can’t get qualified people to come here, why not compromise & increase the APD budget some, reduce the 240 slots down to like 210 or 200 & use the combined surplus to raise pay substantially?

    • indy499

      I’d consider your made up 200 or 210 numbers silly. How about we hire the number of officers required to properly do the job. We have extraordinarily high city taxes on top of the county taxes (for which we strangely get virtually no policing yet pay the same as unincorporated county residents who do) and this should be the first budget item to be funded.

        • Mike Rains

          Tax rates aren’t the whole picture, by a longshot. You you have to apply rates to appraised values to see the tax burden.

          You also have to look at other taxes imposed by the city/county such as special sales taxes, school taxes (Asheville has one), auto registration add ons, etc.

          Also, thing like water, sewer, and trash collection (in Asheville) are paid separate from property taxes but are often government services soo must be considered when evaluating overall financial burden to a citizen living in a given municipality.

          Finally, you take those cost burdens and you look to see what you get in return in terms of public safety, quality of schools, quality of life, etc.

  4. jwardrip

    The “Asheville Coalition for Public Safety” is a private Facebook group with a whopping 161 members—i.e., a fearmongering minority that is trying to make a lot of noise and influence policymaking. More recently, they’ve launched a campaign to shut down community radio for expressing views they disagree with. It’s unsurprising that Tom Tesser’s Facebook is a stream of racist, misogynist, antitrans, pro-gun, pro-cop, pro-rich white men bile. Like AVL Watchdog, these people do nothing but add fuel to a manufactured crisis intended to protect the interests of affluent white people at the expense of everyone else.

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