Asheville City Council adopted a fees and charges schedule for the next fiscal year. Councilman Jan Davis said he was not sure what the point of the exercise was, since they would be allowed to amend the schedule later in the budget process. Nevertheless, all five members of council present voted in favor of adoption with an exception made to allow further consideration of increasing charges at the Aston Park tennis courts. The only members of the public addressing council were two regulars, Christopher Chiaromonte, representing the homeless population, and Alan Ditmore, from Leicester. Council will take public comment on the entire budget at a future meeting.
Schedule highlights included the proposed repeal of the $3.50/month recycling fee and the levying of a $7.00/month solid waste fee. The change is designed to incentivize recycling and reduce what the city pays in landfill tipping fees. Councilman Cecil Bothwell further explained that anybody who had endured the public hearings attempting to locate the last dump in Buncombe County, “knows there’s never going to be another landfill.”
Bothwell said the fee change is the first step in a series designed to help make Asheville as green as it is touted to be. In his opinion, the city has a long way to go. Most of what people are throwing into the green bins is recyclable. To encourage better stewardship, the city is moving toward a “pay as you throw” system. In the near future, citizens can look forward to a less expensive, smaller green bin option and curbside composting.
Citizens can also expect an increase in parking rates downtown. Although the first hour in garages will remain fee, other rates for metered and garage parking will increase by $0.25/hr. The cost of having an illegally-parked car booted, daily maxima for garage parking, monthly surface lot rates, and the cost of losing a parking ticket will also increase. Staff hopes the increases will raise $370,450 more for the city.
Water rates will also increase. Davis wanted to be clear this had nothing to do with the city attempting to use the water system to unfairly gouge customers in the county. The Sullivan acts remain in effect, making Asheville the only municipality owning a water system in the state that can’t charge higher rates to customers in unincorporated areas. The city contracted with Brown & Caldwell several years ago for an analysis of the system’s management, and it remains slow to implement the consultants’ recommended fee and charge increases.
To cover increasing costs, the city is proposing a 1 percent increase for residential and small commercial users. Large commercial users, defined as those that use more than 1000 CCF/ month, will experience a 3 percent increase. Parties that purchase water wholesale or for irrigation purposes will see a 4 percent increase. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer wanted the public to know it was not being dictatorial in designing a new water rate classification. Afraid of losing what little remains of its manufacturing tax base, the city worked with representatives of the fabricating industry and the Chamber of Commerce in negotiating a 1-percent increase in the current commercial rate for manufacturers who use less than 1000 CCF/month. Manufacturers that use more will see no increase in the current large commercial rates this year.
To continue to pay for repairs and refurbishments to a system that deteriorated under the ungainly, and in Standard & Poor’s words “dysfunctional,” regional water authority, the city will increase the capital improvement fee assessed all users by 1 percent. All water rate increases are expected to raise an additional $307,513 for the city.
Already in the lurch is public protest against proposed increases for Parks and Recreation services. At a recent budget work session, Mayor Terry Bellamy was upset that the city would raise rates for afterschool and summer camp programs designed to keep destitute children off the streets and out of gangs. Director Roderick Simmons explained the increases are intended to help the city with cost recovery and remain very low in compared to rates charged by similar P&R systems. Notable among the proposed changes would be increasing the cost of afterschool attendance to $50/week with an additional $30/week charged for “free and reduced” lunch. “Free and reduced” lunch for summer camp would cost $75/week. Non-city residents would pay more.
Among sundry proposed increases for the use of city-maintained fields, increases at the Aston Park clay tennis courts have met resistance. The court fee would increase from $5 to $20, and the cost of using the ball machine would go from $8 to $15. The cost of annual passes would increase anywhere from about 30 to 300 percent. Juniors would be an exception. Whereas they pay nothing now, staff would like to charge them $150 for an annual pass. Rents at the US Cellular Center are also increasing. Councilman Marc Hunt led the charge, backed by his peers, to remove the Aston Park fees from the list of adopted increases. Council will deliberate these charges more at a future date.
As another tool to help the city balance its budget, council approved the offering of an early retirement option for city employees. Qualified applicants would receive 15 percent of their current salary in twelve monthly payments for one year. This would be on top of whatever was promised in their retirement plans. If about 30 eligible employees take advantage of the program, the city expects to save around $350,000 next year by holding vacancies open and restructuring for efficiencies. Davis wanted the public to rest assured that the city would stagger retirements and take whatever other precautions were necessary to prevent glitches in coverage for public safety or customer service.
Changes in Concealed Handgun Permit Application Process
Due to the increased volume of applications for concealed handgun permits, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office is changing the application process for these permits from a walk-in to an appointment based system effective today.
The change in the application process for concealed handgun permits is to ensure the highest quality of customer service for the citizens of Buncombe County. Due to the increase in demand for these permits, citizens often have to endure long lines to start the application process, and many have to return for a second time because they were not able to be seen by the close of business. The appointment based system will guarantee that customers will be seen on the day they arrive at the City/County Identification Bureau to apply for their permit. The process will take approximately 30 minutes.
The pistol purchase permit application process is still being conducted on a walk-in basis during normal business hours at the City/County Identification Bureau.
If you have any further questions, please contact Lt. Roney Hilliard at (828) 250-4485.