Mayor Terry Bellamy said if the city had to raise taxes, she wanted the public to be told why. Granted, government has taken on expanded roles some would rather not fund, but the city is being hobbled by what amounts to a siege by the General Assembly. Consequently, Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson has been tracking bills as they sail through the legislature, and reporting to council.
This week, the big news was that H488 had passed the House and was on the Senate Finance Committee’s calendar for Wednesday. If passed, the bill would transfer the city’s water department to a regional authority, inducing a net loss of $1.9 million in the city’s operating budget. City Manager Gary Jackson was going to travel to Raleigh to present one last plea on the city’s behalf. Councilwoman Esther Manheimer noted he would only be given two minutes to make the city’s case, and Jackson added, “It will be my best speech ever.”
H252 was considered a done deal. It provided some relief from the Sullivan acts which essentially granted the City of Asheville their cake, the water system, but said they couldn’t eat it. Whereas other NC municipalities can use their water systems as a cash cow; Asheville couldn’t. At long last, the legislature said the city could use 5 percent of water revenues to repair streets and sidewalks torn up by waterworks improvements. H252 ended the short-lived reprieve, putting a $1.65 million dent in the city’s budget. Both water bills would be effective immediately upon passage.
H264 would eliminate all extraterritorial jurisdictions in the state. ETJ’s are a No Man’s Land of unincorporated parcels eyed by cities for near-term annexation. Although the people can’t vote in municipal elections, the cities can impose their development standards and fees for compliance in the ETJ. If H264 failed, H224 was standing by to dissolve only Asheville’s ETJ. H224 was ratified on April 17, and so the city cut another $219,000 from its anticipated revenues.
Making headway into the incorporated city limits, H568 proposed the deannexation of the airport from the city. The state would grandfather-in the alcohol permits of any businesses, since the county does not allow liquor by the drink. Asheville, however, would lose about $193,000 it currently receives from fixed-base operators and the car rental businesses.
Some statewide legislation would also have a negative impact on the city’s budget. S363 would eliminate municipal business privilege taxes. It could cause Asheville to lose $1.4-1.7 million annually. S394, which attempts to make statewide taxes more uniform, could cost the city $360,000 by eliminating the beer and wine tax and $6 million with the termination of the local utility tax. Staff reassured council that they anticipated the city would recoup enough in adjustments to statewide sales taxes to offset these shortfalls.
On the bright side for the city, which is seeking more sources of revenue, H962, if passed, would allow municipalities to levy a half-cent tax for basic city services like infrastructural improvements, public safety, and festivals. H418 is still alive. It would create a Regional Parks & Recreation Authority. To date, both the city and county are optimistic they could eliminate duplications of effort and realize savings through the merger.
Council approved sending two resolutions to Raleigh. One supported S724/H685 that would outlaw drugs like Bizarro. The mayor sincerely and emphatically thanked Tim Moffitt for strongly supporting the bill. Cecil Bothwell explained that manufacturers of synthetic drugs have been changing their formulas and branding to stay ahead of legislation while still providing customers the buzz they seek. Bothwell said he was in no way an advocate of the War on Drugs, but the synthetics were inducing psychotic effects amongst Asheville’s vulnerable populations, and causing them to commit crimes they otherwise wouldn’t.
The other resolution council approved spoke against S666 and S667. These bills would deny parents the privilege of declaring their children dependents if their children register to vote at a college address, eliminate same-day voter registration, prevent the registration of voters with insufficient proof of their identity, limit early voting to ten days, and do away with satellite early voting sites.
In other matters –
Council spent the lion’s share of their time Tuesday debating the location of a driveway. Developers of the Asheville Market, slated to replace the former Kmart store on Tunnel Road, explained that Whole Foods would be their anchor store, and their client had specific demands about their parking field. To accommodate them, the landscape architects moved the driveway into the parking area used by the AT&T store.
The developers argued that the parking spaces were in-deed owned by them. They had been used by the Chinese restaurant through an agreement that had been allowed to lapse about three years ago. Since the AT&T store had another driveway and sufficient parking, they had no legal claim to that portion of the developer’s lot. Although some on council sought a way to require the developers to be more sympathetic and generous, Gordon Smith said he didn’t want to “scuttle” a good project and perpetuate the notion that developers can’t get anything done in Asheville. Council ended up approving the project unanimously.