The resolutions creating the districts speak of “cultivating” “vitality” in a “distinct place” “critical to all citizens.” The River Arts District will float bonds for infrastructure improvements and greenways to enhance New Belgium’s build-out. The South Slope Extension was identified for vague capital improvements, but Mayor Esther Manheimer noted the improvements would involve complex partnerships for turning Lee Walker Heights into a mixed-income development. The Charlotte Street Corridor was selected to fund pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
What caused a handful of citizens to speak before council was language in each resolution stating, “while pursuant to [NC General Statute] 160A-542, a city may levy property taxes within established municipal service districts in addition to those levied throughout the city, in order to finance, provide, or maintain for the district services, it is not the intent of this city council to levy additional taxes in the proposed municipal service district in order to finance the proposed improvements, rather the intent is to utilize special obligation bonds as a financing mechanism for these improvements.”
Citizens have gone down that road before. Elected boards almost routinely pass non-binding resolutions in concept, only to have a future board take the approval as a mandate for the next step. (The tactic is referred to as progressivism, as opposed to cataclsymism.) Staff and members of council insisted no tax was “intended” and expressed their alleged hope that the return on investment would more than pay for the debt. They correctly dispelled myths that these districts would be overseen by unelected boards.
From the River Arts District, Keith Jackson wondered why his residential lot was included. He hoped his road, which he said was called Grandview for a reason, would not be used, “as a service road for New Belgium to move beer across that road.”
Wanda Wiggins commented, “My concern is you say there’s no tax increase, but after the improvements have been done, there’s maintenance afterward, so where does the money come from, overall, as far as taxes?” Wiggins owns land on which she had hoped to build and sell homes, and she regrets having to tell potential buyers they’re “within a different tax zone.”
Pattiy Torno, who chairs the Asheville Area River Redevelopment Commission, spoke in favor of the districts as availing “affordable” funding for “a whole slew of projects.” She shared, “I think the quote I heard was, ‘The city doesn’t have a money problem, it has a cash flow problem.’”
Following the public hearing for the RAD district, Councilman Gordon Smith explained to the public that the city was floating bonds in lieu of increasing taxes. Even regular commenter Christopher Chiaromonte didn’t buy that – figuratively, anyway. “Understand, when you borrow money, you still gotta pay it back. It’s called borrowing. They’re not giving you this money. They’re lending you this money, which means if you can’t pay it back, you’ve got to come up with the money somehow.”
Cathy Ball, filling in as Planning and Development Director, entertained citizen concerns about what was planned for the South Slope by saying there was no definite plan yet. “We would hope there would be an opportunity to improve the pedestrian and bike environment in that area,” she added. Then, she used the opening to invite the public to a multimodal transit symposium to be held October 25 at the US Cellular Center.
Addressing the Charlotte Street Corridor, Steven Brady, owner of the Charlotte Street Pub, said he had gotten the impression from media outlets that the city wanted to turn Charlotte Street into something fit for the wealthy North Asheville residents and visitors to the Grove Park Inn. He feared the city was making decisions that would cause the small, neighborhood businesses on Charlotte to be replaced by large revenue generators. He said people have long invested their life savings and their net worth in their little businesses.
“My concern is that at some point in time, this is not going to pay for itself, and then the debt for doing this is going to fall to those of us who have property on this street. . . . I keep reading that, ‘It is not the intent . . . .’”
“That’s not how it functions, I don’t believe,” said the mayor. Her request for a second opinion was met with commentary from city staff that didn’t jibe with what was written in the resolutions and the authorizing statute.
Ken Michalove agreed that Charlotte Street was a neighborhood street. He thought the city was going to be wasting its money. He added council wouldn’t be having this problem had city leadership only allowed construction on I-240 to proceed 20 years ago.
Adam Charnack thanked the city for the “fantastic” idea and encouraged more on-street parking to stem the flow of traffic. He was of the same wishful and excited bent as members of council, who approved of forming the districts unanimously.
During the general public comment portion of the meeting, Tim Harrison shared more fiscal sense. He asked council to review their policy of affording domestic partner benefits for city employees. Since gay marriage is now legal, the policy is discriminatory against heterosexual couples who, in not so many words, are shacking out.
Mayor Esther Manheimer thought that was a good point, but observed that the courts had allowed state Republican leaders Thom Tillis and Phil Berger to intervene. She suggested waiting until the decision was more final.