To access the information, one goes to the city’s website, ashevillenc.gov and types in “dashboard.” On the page that opens, the user clicks, “Bond Project Information.” A page then opens with the city’s three bond logos, three signs with the bond logo that looks like city hall emitting solar rays. “Parks” is green, “Housing” is red, and “Transportation” is blue. The logos are also being planted physically in front of projects on snipe signs. Snipe signs were outlawed in 2006, when former city attorney, Bob Oast, was put in the awkward position of having to explain to council how, in addition to subjecting citizens to visual clutter when proliferating, the signs distract drivers who might be straining to read them, and they could actually be caught by the wind, become airborne, and cause harm.
Clicking on one of the digital logos, though, takes one to the button to push to access data drawn from the city’s financial management records. The user interface is updated fairly regularly, but Dundas expects it will eventually be automatically updated daily. If one selects “Transportation,” he can see the city has spent $12,000 of $32 million set aside in bond revenues. Below the totals, a table lists all projects, how much has been budgeted for them, and how much has been spent. One can also get a general sense of how far along work is coming. City Attorney Robin Currin wanted to be clear no money had been drawn down, but amounts listed would be reimbursed by bond revenues when it was.
Clicking on one of the projects opens a popup with a map, photo, short description, and all the data from the table. It also lists the name, phone number, and email address of the point person for the construction. The tables are searchable by project name and zip code. To date, $12,000 of $32 million in bond revenues has been spent on transportation projects; $4000 of $17 million, on parks; and none of the $25 million set aside for affordable housing projects has been spent. The “Housing” page only shows the city is planning to spend $15 million constructing affordable housing on city-owned property and another $10 million on affordable housing investments. Three parcels are listed as having prospects for municipally-funded affordable housing projects.
In Other Matters –
Tom Tveidt, who used to perform economic research for Buncombe County’s Economic Development Coalition before going into business himself as SYNEVA Economics, LLC, shared with members of council the findings of a year-long study, “The Entrepreneurial Impact of Outdoor Special Events,” which was funded with a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Tveidt said, if nothing else, the research showed the main benefits of outdoor events were exposure and marketing. Opportunities for sales and product demonstration paled comparison. An edge small businesses have over large companies that do well in “sterile” online sales is face-to-face relationships. Overall, businesses that sell their wares at outdoor festivals were estimated to enjoy a 3.9-percent premium in overall annual sales. The events gross $2.7 million in sales for local vendors and generate $515,677 in taxes, $16,305 of which goes to the city.
One of the problems researchers had was there was no centralized control tracking businesses that participate in festivals, parades, and other outdoor events. The researchers suggested creating a directory. That way, small businesses could be connected to any of the sixteen organizations in the county “dedicated to helping businesses grow.” The organizations could develop coursework or perhaps work to increase the presence of women and minorities, local businesses, or nonprofits at future events. Economic Development Specialist John Fillman, who works for the city, said a centralized governing entity could help single parents short on time, or new entrepreneurs learning the ropes, by, for example, familiarizing them with regulations and providing leads for financial services. Fillman expected the city could start small, organizing the “ecosystem,” and no additional staffing would be needed in the short-term. Since the research was, after all, an economic development product, the researchers are interested in seeing the city develop incentives for outdoor event vendors.