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Consent Agenda Gives Clues as to Why Government Keeps Growing

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According to the staff report, “The task force will focus its work around [sic.]: (1) education/training/communication through active community engagement to drive more energy-efficient behavior, (2) technology development and implementation through deliberate investment in distributed energy resources (primarily solar) and storage, and (3) greater access to and promotion of energy efficiency products/programs and demand-side management offerings.”

The thrust of the board appears to be to forestall Duke’s threat to build a third natural-gas generator at its Lake Julian plant. The utility has already secured approval to replace its existing coal-fired generator with two natural-gas generators. Two progressive goals achieved through the initiative are a further blurring of the line between the private and public sectors and the empowering of government to force, or at least incentivize, private-sector choices for power consumption.

On the board will be representatives of local government; green businesses interests like the Green Building Council, Sundance Power, and Green Opportunities; and big businesses like Mission Health, Biltmore Farms, and New Belgium. Not posted with the printed agenda was the intention to add a representative from GE Aviation to the inaugural board.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield said such a board would be fairly unprecedented. Duke’s Communications Specialist Jason Walls expressed his company’s happiness in being onboard with the initiative. Duke is under a lot of pressure to promote off-the-grid technologies.

In another group of consent agenda items, council approved advancing work on the Clingman Forest, Town Branch, and Rhododendron Creek greenways. Councilman Gordon Smith remarked this was the most greenway action in progress council had seen, ever. An additional $45,000 would bring the amount of the contract with Sitework Studios, PLLC, for the preparation of architectural and engineer construction documents for the first two greenways, to $540,000. Council merely authorized the city manager to execute documents necessary for obtaining easements for the Rhododendron Creek Greenway.

To further address the recreational needs of the city, council approved applying for a $500,000 grant from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The city would be required to match the full amount. Proceeds would go toward parks and recreation amenities for the east bank of the French Broad River Greenway.

On a less green issue, council approved state and federal support for local public safety departments. The prospect used to be frightening, conjuring images of a national police state, but no more. The practice is everyday.

In the first instance, council approved the application for another Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the Department of Homeland Security. This one was valued at $868,032. Homeland Security would pay the city to hire nine more firefighters for two years, giving the city that much time to come up with the resources to continue paying them, which may well involve telling the public nine firefighters would have to be laid off if taxes are not raised.

A second Homeland Security grant application approved was valued at $110,000. The federal government is running a debt of $19 trillion with unfunded liabilities estimated to bring it closer to $79 trillion. But an extra $110,000 would fund local public outreach programs. According to the staff report, the funds would go toward the purchase of “materials necessary for a comprehensive home fire safety program, digital fire extinguisher training props, and an inflatable fire safety house.” If the application is successful, the city will be required to put up a $5500 match.

From the state, the city would continue an eighteen-year contract for Regional Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team Six. The contract tasks the state with providing and equipping the hazmat truck and covering costs for administration and training. The team serves one of seven regions in the state, and Fire Chief Scott Burnette argues the city, where the truck is garaged, would have to pay for the team if the state did not.

In one more curious item, council approved waiving the city’s term limit for members serving on boards and commissions. In something reading like special legislation, the agenda item called for “allowing a seated Asheville ABC Board member who is appointed to the NC Association of ABC Boards to have his/her term automatically extended for an additional three-year term.” It also would require a person in such a position to immediately resign their Asheville position when their station on the state board expires. Since the state is silent on ABC Board term limits, the city is within its powers to change its rules.

Reasons given to change the rules included, “The more progressive boards (typically larger boards in urban areas) increasingly sense that recommendations to modernize, streamline, and improve the system have been too incremental or slow for our changing times;” and, “Allowing Asheville ABC Board members to serve beyond six years will provide interested board members with the opportunity to build relationships with others and get elected (and serve) the long-term interests of Asheville.”

In Other Matters –

Council received a parking study for Haywood Road conducted by Kimley-Horn. It concluded 225 more spaces would be needed to satisfy demand for the next five years. While the consultants did not recommend the construction of a garage, they also cautioned that shared parking would not provide sufficient capacity. And while shared parking sounds easy, a lot of churches, for example, are hesitant to share their lots with bars; and other possibly willing property owners have corporate policy, liability insurance, and other legal matters to investigate before they participate. While council did not vote to plant on-street parking meters on Haywood as yet, Kimley-Horn recommended metering 114 on-street spaces. Permitting residential parking in areas where a petition could carry enough support and assigning a parking enforcement officer to a designated Haywood Road detail were other recommendations.

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