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Asheville City Council Finesses Workarounds

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Proclamations formerly celebrated causes and “raised awareness.” Not long ago, Bill Lack was greeted politely, but like some kind of a political operative, when he wanted to set aside a day to honor veterans of the Korean War. Last Tuesday, by contrast, city council greeted a resolution outlining the Democrats’ agenda for state funding of education as if it were as apolitical as finding a cure for cancer. The proclamation is reproduced below in its entirety.

“Whereas the North Carolina Constitution includes an obligation that, ‘The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools for all students in our state;’ and whereas effective and appropriate public education is a cornerstone for our democracy and economic future; and whereas inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending in the state of North Carolina is still below pre-recession levels; and whereas a National Education Association report ranks North Carolina 46th in per pupil spending in 2014-15; and whereas North Carolina teacher salaries ranked 25th in the nation in 2008 but has [sic.] fallen to 42nd in the nation in 2015; and whereas, despite research showing the cost-effectiveness of pre-K services, the North Carolina General Assembly has cut funding and reduced the number of state-funded, pre-K seats by 5400 since 2008; and whereas approximately 60 percent of public education funding comes from the state, while the remainder is funded by local governments and the federal government; and whereas it is fitting and proper to adequately fund our public schools and therefore many local government leaders have shouldered more of the burden of funding public schools by increasing property taxes while cutting important programs or positions;

“Now therefore, I, Esther E. Manheimer, mayor of the City of Asheville, do hereby proclaim April 26, 2016 as Support Public Schools Day in the City of Asheville and implore all citizens to contact their state legislators and encourage them to fully fund public education to reflect growth and fulfill student needs, to reinstate K-12 enrollment growth funding as part of the continuation budget, to reject the trend toward shifting education spending to local governments, and to raise additional state revenue in an equitable fashion in order to avoid regressive tax shifts in counties.”

Other proclamations Tuesday named May 2016 Building Safety Month and April 26 also as UNC-Asheville Women’s Basketball Day and UNC-Asheville Men’s Basketball Day. Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, a native of Waynesville, now lives in Asheville. She accepted the honor saying, “I am a proud Asheville resident. I love this city. I love everything that’s going on in this city and everything the city represents and couldn’t be prouder.” Councilman Gordon Smith, who let loose with a couple owl calls during the presentation, thanked the basketball teams for creating excitement and bringing people together.

In Other Matters –

City Manager Gary Jackson pulled from the consent agenda consideration of approving about $2 million for road repairs. As is usually the case, many more people want help with their roads than funds will allow. DPW Greg Shuler explained roads get graded on a scale of 0-100 each year. Reflecting a national problem, the average street in Asheville scores below 50, and the street in question, Michigan Avenue, received a score of 25.5 with one stretch getting a 6, which Shuler described as “almost not there.” It would take $650,000 just to fix that section. Roads on the TBD list have lower scores.

Comments from Smith indicated residents on Michigan Avenue had been led to believe their road would be repaired this year. Shuler said rankings always change. Things like natural disasters, public works, or funding matches for other projects shuffle priorities. Jackson said the good news was the city had budgeted an extra $500,000 for road repairs next year. During public comment, Alan Ditmore of Leicester, NC, said the city should appreciate its natural traffic calming, rather than spending money to smooth roads and then more to wreck them with speed humps and “curvy things.”

Council next received an update from staff on community recommendations for changing the design standards and review process for downtown projects. Comments were sparse, and Councilwoman Gwen Wisler recommended soliciting more input through the Open City Hall platform. In particular, minorities were underrepresented. Overall, recommendations leaned toward requiring developers to hold more and earlier community meetings. Bothwell asked how many projects had been ducking under new thresholds. Planning Director Todd Okolichany indicated there was not all that much development, but maybe eight of twenty had ducked. Manheimer said she thought height, rather than square-footage was the limiting reagent; anything over four stories had to be concrete instead of wood.

Smith advocated for a study to get a common language for the city, county, and Tourism Development Authority. After Brian Haynes restated his campaign promise to limit hotel development, Bothwell said overdevelopment of hotels could create tomorrow’s affordable housing. Bothwell then asked if, in light of HB2, the city could use CUP’s or CZ’s to require projects to pay a living wage. City Attorney Robin Currin said she had never seen it done. Conditional use and zoning processes were designed for bringing projects more in-line with land use standards. When pressed by the mayor to state whether the CUP or CZ would be more appropriate for the city to test a path around the state law, Currin said requiring a living wage as part of a CUP process would likely bring on a legal challenge; requiring it for a CZ had not been tested.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield was absent, as she was attending, with Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab Accelerator. eLab Accelerator is an invitation-only, four-day boot camp for “teams throughout North America that are working on high-impact and innovative projects at the electricity system’s distribution edge.” It is suspected the duo will emerge with tools to further reduce Duke Energy’s carbon footprint.

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