Tonight Asheville City Council approved a framework for the Business Improvement District. They never approve anything, they just approve parts in concept, and afore long, the approvals morph into mandates in council members’ memories. Mayor Terry Bellamy and Councilman Cecil Bothwell spoke eloquently about why the BID was a bad idea. Bothwell was coming from a perspective of the city needing to raise revenue, with which I disagree. However, he noted it was a bad idea to ask downtown property owners to submit to a 5-7% tax increase before revals, while the city is negotiating in good faith to try to maintain control of its water system, and before the city puts a parks and recreation referendum before the people. He and Bellamy acknowledged the citizens of downtown were already overburdened with taxes to support regional activities. Bellamy said she had been criticized for thinking holistically. Bothwell added that the moving targets the BID was supposed to address made it look like a solution looking for a problem.

Other members on council were less direct. Jan Davis said council had committed themselves to implementing the BID as part of the Downtown Master Plan, but in fact that plan was only approved “in concept.” Others thought council should just give it a whirl, and if it didn’t work out, it could be terminated after a three-year review. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer wasn’t so concerned about the economic ramifications of a tax increase as she was about tweaking the bylaws. She also thought it would be a good idea to add sidewalk repairs to the responsibilities the BID could address.

Bothwell asked to comment again after everybody had had a turn. He reminded his peers that council members had not been able to use their laptops because all the anti-BID emails had shut down the city’s computers. Most of the people who spoke at the meeting were anti-BID. A survey conducted by PARC, an organization with which Bothwell is affiliated, determined that only 19% of citizens favored the BID. Bothwell said if those numbers were not good enough, council should conduct their own survey or hold a referendum.

Ah! But that’s just the taxpayers. Scoff! Scoff!

Many people were wowed by the hard work and all the numbers the BID proponents pulled together for their report. The BID people complained about how they spent their summer vacation pulling it together. They complained previously that anti-BID people were “nay-sayers” who hadn’t done their homework. I agree I am guilty. Perhaps if I read their report twenty more times I would realize how simply multiplying a tax rate by estimated revenues constitutes a “budget study” and how none of their extensive mathematics said anything about estimated losses. All their highfalutin, complex mathematical models assumed no erosion on the margins, no evasion, no sprawl to avoid the tax, etc. If one looks beyond the money, nothing was said about replacing mom-and-pops with multinational chains or becoming a high-rent ghost town like the Biltmore Square Mall.