John Locke Update / Research Brief

The Coming Bond Referendum In Asheville

posted on in City & County Government, Local Government, Spending & Taxes
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Asheville is considering a $74 million bond for the November ballot.  And it’s not for a single project, but rather a broad mix covering transportation, affordable housing and parks and recreation.

But rather than just plow ahead with a referendum, the city council decided to poll voters and try to ascertain whether such a referendum would pass.  They spent $8,000 hiring an outside consulting firm (from South Carolina, that does most of its work for Democrats) to conduct a survey.  And while I’m not sure about that expenditure, the report on the poll results did make for some interesting reading.

Those polled were asked, “Would you say the property taxes (not federal, state or sales) you pay are too high, too low, or just right considering the services you receive from city government?”  And the responses weren’t too terribly surprising.

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That seems about right.  Most people thought taxes were too high.  Almost no one thought they were too low.  A substantial number thought they were kind-of ok where they were.

Residents also didn’t think that the city was doing a very good job addressing roads and affordable housing.  Again, not surprising.

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But then we start getting to the interesting stuff.  When asked, “If you could add one other item for City Council to consider upgrading as part of a bond package, what would it be?” the top responses were:

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And a whopping six people said “More Green Spaces, Parks.”

So by far the largest response was “Don’t know.”  The areas that would be addressed by these bond projects got 9 percent, 8 percent, and less than 1 percent.  This hardly sounds like strong demand to me.  It’s certainly a far cry from a mass movement of citizens writing to their elected representatives demanding improvements in transportation, affordable housing, and parks and recreation.

So then I got to the questions about the bond itself, and I’m thinking, “These people already think their taxes are too high, and there’s no huge demand for improvements in these things.  They probably won’t vote for a tax increase.”


When asked about a bond for transportation (which wouldn’t include any improvements to parking downtown), 67 percent said they’d vote for it.  Only 21 percent said they wouldn’t.  For a similar question about a bond for parks, 60 percent said “yes”, 20 percent “no”.  And for affordable housing, it was again 67 percent “yes”, 23 percent “no”.

But maybe people just didn’t quite realize that these bonds would drive up their property taxes.  (You know, those taxes that 52 percent said were already too high.)  Maybe if they knew that, they’d be less likely to support the bond.

Wrong again.

When told that this $74 million bond package would increase property taxes by about $110/year on a $275,000 home, 48 percent said they were more likely to support the bond.  37 percent said they were less likely.

I’m baffled.  If you believe that your taxes are already too high, why on earth would you vote to increase those taxes further and entrust that money to the very council you already think isn’t doing a great job?  It doesn’t make sense.

Instead of voting themselves a tax increase in November, I’d urge Asheville taxpayers to call on their city council to better use the resources they already have.  If, as the survey suggests, those residents don’t think they’re getting great value for the taxes they’re already paying, then maybe there are ways to redirect those dollars to projects that would be better value, that would address the needs of the city more effectively.  Surely that, and not an additional $74 million taken away from taxpayers and the myriad things on which they would otherwise have spent those dollars, is the right place to start.

Julie Tisdale is City and County Policy Analyst at the John Locke Foundation. She studies the effectiveness of local spending and tax policy. Before coming to the Locke Foundation, she worked at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi,… ...

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