By Leslee Kulba –
Both Mayor Terry Bellamy and Susan Griffin, chair of Asheville’s new Business Improvement District Board, agreed. The city is dirty. At council’s formal meeting Tuesday, Griffin painted a picture of the town with expressions like “dirty,” “litter,” and “dog excrement.”
But earlier in the day, Bellamy had indicated acknowledgment of a common end did not translate to unanimity on opinions about the best means. Members of Asheville City Council were more than disappointed that no representative from the new Business Improvement District board had shown up at their budget work session. Council had requested that a representative from that organization present a draft budget for integration into the overall municipal budget.
Bellamy was perhaps the most irritated. The BID was requesting a tax increase on downtown property owners, and the city did not know how much that would be. They only had a sketchy number of 7 percent from previous conversations.
Council’s next budget session would be on March 26, and by being absent, the BID put staff in the awkward position of having no time to evaluate how its demands would interface with the general operating budget. For example, the BID has suggested it could provide snow removal, trash collecting, and recycling for downtown businesses.
Councilman Jan Davis explained the city needed to know how frequently they expected these services to be provided so staff could evaluate how realistic their proposals were and how much of the slack would have to be picked up from the general municipal budget. “What if we see their budget and we can’t do it with a 7-cent tax increase?” asked the mayor.
Cecil Bothwell, who has consistently remained opposed to the BID, argued it was unfair to provide snow removal to downtown residents when municipal ordinances clearly state that is the responsibility of property owners, and people outside the BID district would not receive the same service.
Also annoying Bothwell was the suggestion that, in addition to the proposed but unspecified tax increase, the BID had suggested that the city and county contribute around $300,000 from their general tax collections toward the BID. Director of Administrative Services Lauren Bradley said the latest request was not quite so high.
Davis, who serves as the city’s liaison, tried to take the blame, suggesting he had not been clear enough in the way he communicated council’s need for estimates. His peers didn’t buy that. Nobody said the BID board was being intentionally obfuscatory, but council was scheduled to approve the organization’s bylaws at their formal meeting later in the evening. Council agreed they would articulate their need for a budget before the cameras and in writing. A deadline of March 18 would be imposed for the receipt of a detailed budget.
Marc Hunt, who is perhaps the BID’s greatest supporter on council, tried to approve the bylaws, but withdrew his motion for lack of support. City Attorney Bob Oast had indicated acceptance of the bylaws might be construed to deny the city of certain powers of oversight.
In Other Matters –
Deputy City Manager Jeff Richardson provided council with an update on items moving through the General Assembly that would impact the city, and most, if approved, would negatively impact the city’s budget. Richardson acknowledged that news of some of the bills was so hot off the press, he had not had time to research details.
In summary, HB 252 would repeal the amendment to the Sullivan acts that allows the City of Asheville to divert revenue from the water system toward the repair and improvement of roads and sidewalks torn up by pipeline work. The Sullivan acts are special legislation that require the City of Asheville, and no other North Carolina municipality overseeing a public utility, to refrain from transferring revenues from that utility into the general fund. SB 207/HB238 would allow the Local Government Commission to confiscate public utilities not if they are mismanaged, but merely if their financial stability is brought into question.
HB 79 would introduce a constitutional amendment eliminating ETJ’s and requiring 2/3 of property owners in an affected area to approve municipally-initiated annexations. If approved, it would go into effect next year. SB 97 would require cities to refund all taxes collected from areas that win legal battles and successfully de-annex themselves. In another instance of anti-Asheville legislation, HB 224 would dissolve only Asheville’s ETJ, effective April 1, and outlaw voluntary annexations into the City of Asheville. Once again, members of city council were beginning to feel blind-sided by the General Assembly, shut out from opportunities to dialogue and raise concerns.
Gordon Smith suspected a typo, but Richardson said he had copied verbatim the information he had been provided. Restaurants have a reputation for requesting annexation to obtain liquor licenses, but Oast said some businesses require an “urban level of service,” for things like fire protection as well.
HB 150, which Richardson emphasized was statewide, would outlaw the legislation of aesthetics on single-family residences and duplexes. HB 120 would prevent local inspections of single-family residences and duplexes from occurring more frequently than the state requires.
SB 125 would make withholding of public records by an elected official a criminal instead of a civil offense, and SB 186 would allow electronic noticing of public meetings to suffice. The latter would save the city about $4 million it spends each year on newspaper ads.
HB 48 would require mopeds to be registered and insured, and operators to be licensed. Bothwell said this would really discourage DUI’s, as mopeds give those convicted of intoxicated driving a means of continuing their livelihood by commuting.
Lastly, SB 3 would provide for a crime lab in the western part of the state. This would speed up due process by unclogging a major backlog that has persisted in evaluating evidence for at least a decade. Council agreed to pass a resolution of support for this as a means of smoking the peace pipe with legislators.