Asheville Finance Director Lauren Bradley laid out the numbers during City Council's May 28 meeting. Photo by Max Cooper.
With a small property tax increase and much uncertainty remaining, Asheville City Council moved one step closer to a decision on the city's money issues tonight, as staff presented its formal budget.
The budget planning season proved a rollercoaster this year, as overhauls at the state level left city staff uncertain about what level of revenue to plan for — leading Council and city management to offer sometimes dire scenarios of what might occur. This budget assumes a $1 million revenue loss due to state-level changes. It increases property tax by 1 cent — to 43 cents per $100 of value — to match the same level of revenue, plus growth, as last year. Buncombe County staff, however, have proposed a sharp tax hike, which city property owners would also have to pay.
The city budget proposes making ends meet by freezing vacant positions, making $500,000 in cuts across several departments, and delaying some infrastructure spending until next year. City staff would get a 3 percent raise, and most significant service cuts are avoided. While budget shortfalls aren't new for the city, staff claim that a state overhaul has made the situation more acute and far more uncertain.
Staff's proposal also assumes that the city keeps the water system (currently tied up in a legal battle) through the year, and that the city can work out a deal with Buncombe County for a Parks and Recreation Authority by January 1 (legislation allowing such a move is currently in the state senate). That level of "what ifs?" isn't ideal, several city staffers noted, and City Manager Gary Jackson said staff have had to essentially put together three budgets to deal with the scenarios. If the city loses the water system and a Parks and Recreation Authority fails to emerge, that would leave the city taking $1 million from its rainy day funds and looking for significant cuts in January.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal June 11, when Council holds a public hearing on the issue.