A white pill sat on the floor of the council chamber. I wondered if I were to eat it, if I might be encouraged to assemble a look and an attitude and approach the dais with poorly-assembled facts. Maybe it would help me make it through the meeting without turning red in the face and flipping my pen. The world may never know.

Instead, I listened. The room was stuffed with police and fire personnel disappointed that after a three-year wage freeze, they would only get a 1% COLA. To their credit, they allowed spokespersons to carry the day and let the numbers do the talking. That was so much nicer than hearing each of three concepts repeated at least seven times.

Scott Mullins, president of the Asheville Firefighters Association, said a 1% raise would amount to $5 a week; and that would not help the firefighters get off the federal doles on which they now rely. It will not help them buy homes. It will not let their kids play T-ball or go swimming, and it will not allow them to quit their second jobs to spend time with their families. In another cost-cutting measure, council decided to hire more staff so it could do away with overtime for fire department personnel.

Mayor Terry Bellamy said she was not going to let city staff go another year without increased compensation. She said staff needed to defer capital expenditures. A car, a truck, a building could wait. People needed attention now. Bellamy doesn’t like outbursts, but if I hadn’t been so busy taking notes, I would have at least snapped my fingers in the air like the beatnicks on Happy Days. Actually, it was my fear she would think I was playing Addams Family when all I really wanted to do was shout, “SWEEEEET!”

Unfortunately, this is the real world, and the message was lost. Councilman Cecil Bothwell said politicians are hesitant to talk about raising taxes, but he wasn’t. He hadn’t heard a single person say they didn’t want a tax increase, and a 1% tax increase wouldn’t hurt anybody. (After the last reval, my landlord raised rents, several people moved out, and the landlord put her own house up for sale. No pain there.) Chris Pelly made a motion to direct staff to rewrite the proposed budget with a 1% property tax increase, with proceeds earmarked for the municipal payroll. Jan Davis seconded.

Marc Hunt came in with a cooler head. An hour’s debate could not adequately vet such a significant proposition. Besides, people who opposed tax increases were talking to him, if not Bothwell. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer wanted to see a menu of tradeoffs. Besides, the public had been led to believe council was not going to raise taxes, and the only people who knew the matter was on the table were the three people watching at home.

Davis withdrew his motion, but citizens were not amused. Regular Chris Chiaromonte told how government debt leads to tyranny; and Judy Strong asked why the city continued to sink money in “losing prospects” like golf. Tracey DeBruhl asked why the city was giving an outside agency $5000 more. He suggested the agency pull some of their own weight or do its own soliciting. If the cause was important enough, said he, the community will pull together for it. By way of the consent agenda, council agreed to move forward with awarding tax waivers for Weirbridge Apartments (almost $600,000 over five years) and the New Belgium brewery (amount unknown), agreed to accept a federal loan to help the controversial Eagle Market Street group build a highrise that will create jobs and revitalize an historical part of downtown, and approved continuing with the restoration of City Hall.

In other matters:

  • Asheville City Council outlawed digital billboards. They are unsafe, and they obsturb sense of place. Thass wo they say!
  • Gordon Smith was late getting to the city council meeting. In what is hopefully an unrelated matter, he is celebrating Strive Not to Drive Week. Bus trips are free for the next three weeks while the city unveils its new marketing strategy for transit. If we really wanted synergy, perhaps we could let digital billboards run roughshod over the viewsheds while drafting a local ordinance that sentences anybody who lets a silly billboard steer his car into foreign objects to a period of commuting via the newly-painted buses.