Expect tax increases after Council approves BID, fiscal year 2025 budget

BID poo emoji
NO BID: Asheville residents, one dressed as a poop emoji, gathered in opposition to a proposed business improvement district outside Harrah’s Cherokee Center during City Council’s June 11 meeting. Opponents say the additional tax will push local merchants out of downtown. Photo by Caleb Johnson

Protesters banged drums and played horns in front of Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville on June 11, as a fellow demonstrator danced in a poop emoji costume emblazoned with the message “BID = Crap.”

Despite the outside noise, inside the center Asheville City Council voted 6-1 to approve the creation of a new business improvement district, also known as a BID. Council member Kim Roney opposed the proposal.

The BID will assess 9 cents per $100 valuation for downtown property owners — about $360 per year for a property assessed at $400,000. The estimated annual budget for the BID could reach $1.25 million and will fund enhanced litter removal, landscaping, beautification efforts and a staff of downtown safety ambassadors.

Council’s next step will be to draft a request for proposal that will detail the BID’s services, its budget and the criteria for board members, among other specifics.

Before the vote, 12 community members commented on the proposal. All opposed the BID, citing concerns about government transparency, the lack of details about how the board would operate and the role of the safety ambassadors.

“The resolution of the proposed BID … offers empty reassurances for a safer community,” resident Barron Northrup said. “But a strategy of ramming [an] aimlessly blank check through and figuring out specifics later is anything but safe.”

The sound of drumming and shouting on the sidewalk outside filtered into the hall as resident and street artist Keith Wolf approached the podium.

“What are these kids on these bikes going to be like,” Wolf said, referencing the safety ambassadors. “How are they going to handle the problems [of] people on the street? I see one of these guys dancing to the band outside. How long is it before the band’s not allowed to play … because the hotels don’t want us there?”

City Council BID vote
YES BID: Asheville City Council votes 6-1 at its June 11 meeting to approve the downtown business improvement district. The BID assesses 9 cents per $100 valuation for downtown property owners to pay for enhanced litter removal, landscaping, beautification efforts and safety ambassadors. Photo by Caleb Johnson

Following public comments, Council member Sage Turner addressed some of the claims laid out by the speakers. She noted that the BID’s 15-person board, for instance, would include an even number of property owners and renters and included a seat for a member of the city’s Continuum of Care, which addresses homelessness. In response to claims that the BID was unpopular among downtown merchants, Turner noted that some business owners she had spoken to, and the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, which includes 150 members, supported the measure.

Both Turner and Council member Maggie Ullman also pushed back against the claim that the BID’s board will operate without accountability, stating that the board’s meetings and materials will be public and that Council has the final vote on whether to approve the BID’s budget annually. Council also has the power to terminate the BID, if desired.

“If this goes off the rails — which I do not think it will, but if something really gets out of step with what we say we want now and what the community is needing — this time every year, we’re going to have a conversation about it,” added Ullman.

Following the BID discussion, Council narrowly voted to adopt a revised version of City Manager Debra Campbell’s proposed $250 million city budget for fiscal year 2024-25.

Director of Finance Tony McDowell presented the budget proposal, which includes raises in compensation for the Asheville Fire Department, Asheville Police Department and other city employees. Under the new proposal, the lowest-paid Asheville firefighters and police officers would get raises to $50,309 annually. Other regular full-time permanent city employees would see a pay increase of $2,400, or 4.11%, whichever is greater, boosting the lowest-paid employees’ wages by 6.3%.

The budget originally included a 1-cent citywide property tax increase, part of which would fund city employee pay raises and replenish the general fund.

But Council members Roney, Antanette Mosley and Sheneika Smith voiced opposition.

“People are crunched. I do not want to raise property taxes without pulling all of our guns out,”  Smith asserted. “You probably haven’t seen struggle. I’m just going to say ‘no’ to what you all are proposing because I do believe we have a better chance at recouping than a lot of people who are sitting in that audience who work with us and for us every day. This year, I will not be voting for this budget.”

“We don’t have to [raise taxes],” Roney added before suggesting an alternative plan of one-time cuts to the budget to help make up the shortfall, including cutting a city transit study.

“We’re creating a budget that has recurring expenses,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said. “To patch a hole with … the money for a one-time study … doesn’t work. That is not how you balance a budget. You’ve got to have a source of revenue that continues year after year.”

Council member Turner, meanwhile, suggested that Council reduce the tax increase from a penny to 0.63 cents to cover the wage increases. It means a $25.20 increase for an owner of property valued at $400,000.

Council adopted the revised increase and approved the revised budget 4-3 vote, with Roney, Mosley and Smith opposed.

“It’s pretty well understood by this Council that we’re going to have to raise taxes next year, no matter what we do,” Ullman said. “A little bit now, a little bit next year, taking steps one at a time feels like a better plan.”

The budget will go into effect on Monday, July 1.

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About Patrick Moran
As Mountain Xpress' City Reporter, I'm fascinated with how Asheville and its people work. Previously, I spent 25 years in Charlotte, working for local papers Creative Loafing Charlotte and Queen City Nerve. In that time I won three North Carolina Press Association Awards and an Emmy. Prior to that, I wrote and produced independent feature films in Orlando, Florida. Follow me @patmoran77

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10 thoughts on “Expect tax increases after Council approves BID, fiscal year 2025 budget

  1. Rachael Roberts Bliss

    I’m disturbed that BID was approved and council members hadn’t even required a budget yet. Speak out to council telling them to not accept the budget. Things are tight downtown for small businesses. The big hotels won’t even blink as they pay higher taxes. I don’t think tourists will be particularly thrilled with a BID, especially as they witness the destruction of 16 trees on Patton. Crazy choices made by city leadership.

    • Think about it

      And, they wouldn’t have to, if the money already in the coffers was properly allocated and budgeted.

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