City budget needs community input

One of the most important responsibilities of City Council is to approve our annual budget. This is the process where your elected representatives decide how to invest your money. City Council must place a literal dollar figure on the importance of different challenges facing our community. We are in the process of approving our 2007-2008 budget. I appreciate the opportunity to outline some of the key priorities we seek to address.

Creating walkable, bikeable communities: Sidewalks and greenways have been underfunded for years. Our proposed budget includes an additional $435,000 to create a new sidewalk crew, expedite completion of new sidewalks and better maintain existing sidewalks. We are also significantly increasing funding to implement priority greenway projects.

Planning for the future of downtown: Our downtown is witnessing the largest increase in growth since the boom of the 1920s. We need to assure that new development enhances rather than degrades our downtown. The budget includes funds to carry out an extensive public involvement process to create a community vision for the future of downtown and new ordinances to guide development.

Improving public safety: Our proposed budget includes $704,000 to put more officers on the street in neighborhoods that need them the most. We will create two new police beats in the central and west areas of the city. We have also included $315,000 for a police take-home car policy, which will encourage more officers to live in Asheville neighborhoods.

Better communication with neighborhoods: Last year, City Council created a neighborhood coordinator position to improve communication between the city and neighborhood organizations. We are including funds in the budget this year to make that position permanent.

Downtown cleanliness: Our budget includes $140,000 to create a new downtown sanitation crew to keep the trash picked up and the streets cleaner.

Public restrooms in downtown: This has been talked about for a long time. Our City Council has approved funding to make it happen this year.

Environmental sustainability: City Council is creating a new sustainability coordinator position to help implement strategies to save energy, reduce fuel use, promote green building and encourage other sustainability practices in Asheville. Council is proposing to discount the cost of monthly parking in city facilities by 50 percent for hybrids and other super-low-emission vehicles.

Tax relief for families in Asheville: Our budget includes a reduction in the property-tax rate. We also plan to phase out the recycling fee that appears on people’s water bills. Eliminating this fee will reduce the average water bill for families in Asheville by about 10 percent.

I would welcome your feedback on priority service and infrastructure needs facing our community. How do you want to see your tax dollars put to work this year? You may reach me at newmanasheville@aol.com.

— Brownie Newman
Asheville City Council

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