At the city council meeting on Tuesday, April 11th, three issues stood out to me most.
1) Asheville City Council nodded to move forward with the 2017-2018 consolidated budget, which includes the 1-million dollar, annual budget expansion for the Asheville Police Department as requested by Chief Hooper.
2) Several non-profit representatives made comments in response to the consent agenda expressing frustration in the amount and process of the recent dispersement of our city’s Strategic Partnership Funds, which are locally paid for out of the City’s general fund for projects that support Asheville City Council goals through the city’s Community Development Department for programs that address housing, transit, food security, and more. Over 400k in requests were made, with 200k budgeted for distribution.
3) In public comment, Rev. Amy Cantrell of BeLoved House highlighted the petition titled “A Millon Dollars for The People,” citing figures from governing.com which would show Asheville as having higher officer-per-capita policing than the national average for a city our size, as well as one of the highest rates for cities in the state of North Carolina.
I see these three issues as connected.
One of the named reasons for the yearly budget expansion for the APD is a need for 24-hr. policing in Downtown Asheville, which has recently seen a 1% increase in crime and has the highest crime rate of the city. According to community leaders and business owners in Downtown Asheville, our bustling sidewalks are currently perceived as generally safe, while parking issues take higher precedent in surveys. (ACT: Feb .9, 2017) This is a complex, deeply-rooted, systemic issue ranging from wages & retention of city employees to increased population due to our tourism industry and daytime workforce to management & training.
I have personally urged our council members to consider the state and national statistics when justifying more officers in our police force – especially when not all the available positions in the APD are currently filled, which leads to increased overtime. The main issue here is how our city is going to prioritize funding requests. If there is an extra million in tax dollars to allocate in this year’s budget, we should consider the example recently set by Buncombe County when they voted to fund community initiatives instead of a new jail.
There are so many things we can do to make Asheville safer and more secure for all. Can you imagine the long-term impact Asheville would see if the city doubled the Strategic Partnership Fund by $200k and invested the rest into free-fare transit for our bus system? Increased transparency, diversification of public communications, and calculated use of our volunteer boards & commissions are all ways to address trust between city governance, city staff, and the people of Asheville.
Now is the time to Be ‘Bout it Being Better: Get informed, email or call your city council members to share your thoughts on our budget process, write a letter to the editor, and consider attending or applying for a seat on one of over 50 boards & commissions who advise on everything from safety to transit, from education to environmental sustainability, and so much more!