AshevilleCity - County Gov.Leslee KulbaNews Stories

Budget Hike Push with $1 Mil for the People


City Manager Gary Jackson led off listing a sampling of concessions. In response to the presentation Williams demanded council hear, by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Soros Justice Attorney-Fellow Ian Mance, council will now receive quarterly reports on traffic stop demographics. All police officers will receive crisis de-escalation, implicit bias, and cultural sensitivity training. Instead of recruiting and hiring the most-qualified candidates regardless of superficial features, the city will appease critics with token gestures that call attention to race – like increasing by 5 percent the number of women and minorities applying for positions in the police, fire, and other under-represented departments. Other goals include increasing the number of minority-certified businesses in Buncombe County 15 percent and assigning 30 percent of Parks and Recreation programming funds to projects in underserved areas.

The proposed general fund budget would be $121,335,145, reflecting a tax rate of 43.39 cents. The rate went down 4.11 cents from last year, but county revaluations increased property values for almost everybody. Members of council emphasized the tax rate included 3.5 cents for debt service and 0.5 cents for transit, but acted as if all else was a continuation budget for a well-oiled machine. The police department had decided to postpone hiring and drag the process out over 30 months; and, working with the budget department, $430,000 in deferrable purchases were identified. That meant APD would go without the $951,000 while compressing its needs for pent-up funding at a future date.

Councilor Cecil Bothwell asked if the city couldn’t do what the police department had done to cut the tax rate half a cent, and Mayor Esther Manheimer called attention to a paper circulated among council members prior to the meeting, which addressed that very issue. Jackson’s summary of the measures included holding vacancies, like one for an assistant city manager, open; reducing temporary and seasonal hiring; managing overtime; delaying contracting and consulting; and postponing fleet and equipment purchases. The result would be a 42.89-cent tax rate and a general fund of $120,705,145. Jackson then said having assimilated large budget cuts on the fly three times for the city before, he would appreciate not having to commit to details that night. In the end, council did a very good job of drawing attention to how it was cutting costs while increasing the budget.

In a Facebook post, Councilor Gordon Smith said the city was spending unprecedented amounts on underserved populations. He began outlining threats the federal government was posing to “Medicaid, transit services, housing subsidies, food aid, education, and other local grants;” and the state, to “transit services, education, and other transportation funding.” Then, he wrote, “The good news is that this budget is doing more than we’ve ever done before. We’re investing record amounts.” Expenditures included a 24-percent increase in transit funding, $3.5 million for youth programming, $9 million for public parks, $6.7 million for the construction of affordable housing, $2.6 million for housing the homeless, $8.7 million for sidewalk construction, and $4.7 million for greenway extension.

Councilor Julie Mayfield had previously come under fire for wanting to fund green initiatives instead of social programs for underserved communities. In her printed remarks, she brushed on her resume of social justice work. Then, she largely echoed what Smith had said.

Councilor Keith Young read how it was challenging, but not impossible, for angry people with different views to sit down and seek understanding. In fact, it was happening during the budget process. Young hoped the city would, in the near future, launch participatory budgeting. While it sounds like a coup to allow the fiscally irresponsible to dictate to the responsible; it is, in many cases, merely the setting aside of a set amount of discretionary funds for publicly-generated ideas. Sometimes, multiple plans are developed by members of underserved communities working with financial experts and submitted to a vote. Both New York and Boston have used participatory budgeting.

Council approved the budget 5-2. Young and Haynes were opposed.

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