(Also check out our latest call to action for the City of Asheville here)
Buncombe County Manager Avril Pinder will present a draft budget on June 1, 2021 to the County Commission. We think that the County can go further in the direction of racial equity by increasing equity funding across the board, making allocations to the Reparations Fund, taking real strides toward reimagining public safety, and doing both without disproportionately taxing Black people.
Click here for an email template that highlights the budget priorities as we have analyzed them.
(If you have issues with the link above, scroll down the page for the email template that you can copy and paste)
We invite you to personalize this and add any particular questions or proposed solutions that you feel are important for the County Commission to consider. You can also use these points to communicate with them over the phone. Scroll down for a full breakdown of each of these budget elements.
To call county officials:
- County Commission Chairperson Brownie Newman – (828) 243-0107
- County Commission Vice-Chair Al Whitesides – (828) 250-4006
- County Commissioner Jasmine Beach Ferrara – (828) 250-4004
- County Commissioner Amanda Edwards – (828) 250-4005
- County Commissioner Robert Pressley – (828) 215-2077
- County Commissioner Parker Sloan – (828) 250-4007
- County Commissioner Terri Wells – (828) 250-4008
To make a public comment: this meeting will take place at 200 College Street, Room 326, and attendees will be able to make public comments live at the meeting.
More information on some of these issues:
On Reimagining Public Safety: Other cities have made great strides in establishing such programs. One example is the CAHOOTS program in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, where 911 calls are triaged by trained dispatchers who regularly send unarmed teams that rely on de-escalation, nonviolent resolution, and harm reduction. This program has not only led to a significant decrease in police call volume, but has also saved those cities millions of dollars. Why are we not initiating pilot programs to see how they can work here in Buncombe County?
CAHOOTS is a 24/7 mobile, crisis intervention service in the Eugene-Springfield, Oregon urban growth boundary. The program was started in 1989 as a community policing project and runs through the White Bird Clinic. The service is funded through United Way, the Human Services Commission, and annual sales of their “Help Book.” CAHOOTS provides medical stabilization, assessments, information, referrals, and advocacy for “next steps in treatment.” They list a broad range of services, including crisis counseling, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, housing crisis assistance, first aid and non-emergency medical care, transportation, and related services. Senator Ron Wyden has announced plans to introduce a bill, the CAHOOTS Act, to establish a nationwide model for mental health services through increased Medicaid funding.
In Eugene and Springfield, 911 calls are triaged by trained dispatchers who recognize when there is a crisis of mental illness, homelessness, or addiction. Then, teams consisting of one medic and one mental health crisis worker are dispatched to the scene. They carry no weapons and rely on de-escalation, nonviolent resolution, and harm reduction. If weapons are present, the team will call in police; in case of medical emergency, they call Emergency Medical Services. In 2014, $5.7 million was saved from the Eugene police budget; in 2017, $12 million was saved, while CAHOOTS took 17% of the police department call volume. The CAHOOTS program budget was $2.1 million per year. CAHOOTS will consult with other communities wishing to establish a similar program.
On the Property Tax Hike: The current draft budget calls for a $9.6 million hike in property taxes. This comes on top of huge spikes in home appraisals in the past year, and there is ample evidence that these appraisals were deeply inequitable. The County must find a way to fund County priorities without disproportionately targeting the same Black community members whom they are claiming to engage in healing and justice with Reparations. The best way forward would be to invest in alternatives to traditional policing. The CAHOOTS program, mentioned above, saved the City of Eugene over $12 million dollars, well over the amount the County is proposing to cover with increased taxes. We ask again: Why are we not moving forward to divest from traditional policing as a way to both protect Black lives and also save the County money, so it doesn’t have to levy taxes that will do significant harm?
Property taxes are notoriously inequitable. As the New York Times put it in a recent analysis, “flat-rate property taxation is a sham… wealthy homeowners get a big tax break, while less affluent homeowners are paying a higher price for the same public services.” A recent analysis by the Citizen-Times of property tax appraisals here in Asheville reflects this: It found that property appraisals went up the most in historically Black Southside, and went up the least in far more affluent Biltmore Forest. This means that Southside residents are already facing a huge increase in their tax bill – and now the City is proposing to raise that bill even higher. (You can read more of the history of redlining here in Asheville here.)
On Homeowner Property Tax Relief: If the County insists on moving forward with a property tax hike, then it must take steps to ensure that it is an equitable one. There are reports that the County is planning to set aside $300,000 to fund a property owner tax relief program, which will only offer minimal support. A tax relief program that can actually move us toward equity must be available to a wide range of people, be easy to apply for, and take into account how renters and homeowners with low incomes will be affected. How will this program work so that a tax hike won’t be devastating for many Black people in the county, and for all people who have limited means?
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Dear County Manager Pinder and County Commissioners,
Please consider several important revisions to the draft budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022:
- Equity is listed as the first “Foundational Focus Area” in the budget narrative, but is the least funded, receiving only .4% of allocated dollars. Will you consider allocating for equity with the same priority you assign it in the narrative?
- No money has been allocated to fund the commitment you have made to institute Reparations. Will you make a specific allocation to a Reparations fund to demonstrate your prioritizing of this with your priorities of equity for the County?
- I am concerned that a tax hike will disproportionately harm Black people and people with lower incomes. Will you consider instead saving money with alternatives to traditional policing like other localities across the country? Or, if you move forward with a property tax hike, how will you ensure meaningful homeowner tax relief?
I urge you to insist on a budget that upholds your commitment to Black lives and equity.