City Manager Debra Campbell presented a draft budget on May 25, 2021 to City Council. This budget contains the first allocation toward Reparations, which we applaud. We think that the City can go further in the direction of racial equity by solidifying the Reparations funding process, taking real strides toward reimagining public safety, and doing both without disproportionately taxing Black people.
To email city officialsClick 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 City Council 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 city officials:
- City Manager Debra Campbell – 828-259-5604
- Mayor Esther Manheimer – 828-259-5604
- Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith – 704-401-9104
- Sandra Kilgore – 954-540-5593
- Antanette Mosley – phone number not provided
- Kim Roney – 828-771-6265
- Sage Turner – 828-423-0621
- Gwen Wisler – 828-333-1767
More information on each of these budget elements:
On Reparations: The budget includes $1.2 million for the Reparations Fund and process, which is a step in the right direction. It’s going to take a lot more money to even begin to offer reasonable restitution and compensation to Black Asheville, and those funds must specifically benefit Black community members. The City has declared on multiple occasions that its financial means are limited. City Attorney Brad Branham has also expressed the concern that trying to specifically support Black people with City funds could put the City on shaky Constitutional ground. There is a solution to both these problems, and it involves setting the Reparations Fund up as an independent legal and financial structure, like the One Buncombe Fund that was established to address the COVID crisis. Great care would have to go into the establishment of this new entity to make sure it stays accountable to the Black communities it must serve, but it is likely the only way that the Reparations Fund can pull in significant outside funding and create programs that specifically target the Black people who are owed Reparations. Why is there no provision for a structure like this in the budget?
On Reimagining Public Safety: Last July, City Manager Cambell said, “People want our communities to feel safer, not with traditional law enforcement, but with holistic health, economic education and other human services that nourish and stabilize people in their communities.” Yet the most recent budget work session summary states that “Budget proposals for crisis response team for mental health & substance abuse and houselessness response team remain under development.”
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. (You can read more about the CAHOOTS program below.) Why are we still “developing” plans for such programs here in Asheville, and not initiating pilot programs to see how they can work here?
On the Property Tax Hike: The current draft budget calls for a $5.7 million hike in property taxes. This comes on top of huge spikes in home appraisals by Buncombe County in the past year, and there is ample evidence that these appraisals were deeply inequitable. (Read more about the inequities within property taxation below.) The City must find a way to fund Council priorities without disproportionately targeting the same Black community members whom they are purporting 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 coincidentally saved the City of Eugene the exact $5.7 million dollar figure that the City is proposing to cover with increased taxes. Those savings have only increased in more recent years. 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 City money, so it doesn’t have to levy taxes that will do significant harm?
On Homeowner Property Tax Relief: If the City insists on moving forward with a property tax hike, then it must take steps to ensure that it is an equitable one. The City Manager says she will be recommending that monies be set aside to fund a property owner tax relief program. Such a plan will only work if it is broad in scope, easy to apply for, and well publicized. Such programs usually only support a few homeowners. They are typically limited in scope, can be challenging to apply for, and contain no provisions that landlords pass any relief on to their tenants. There is also no mention of this program in the budget work session presentation from earlier this month. How will this program work so that a tax hike won’t be devastating for many Black people in the city, and for all people of limited means?
Additional Information on Property Taxes
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.
Additional Information on a highly successful Divestment and Investment Solution: Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS)
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 assistance crisis, 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.
Send to AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov and firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear City Manager Campbell and City Council members,
I am writing to you today to urge you to consider several important revisions to the latest draft budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.
Fortunately, there is still time before a budget is scheduled to be approved next month. I urge you to insist on a budget that upholds your commitment to Black lives and equity.
- I applaud you for allocating funds for the Reparations Fund and process. Will you set up a financial structure for the Reparations Fund so that it can collect outside funds and ensure that Reparations spending will be able to specifically benefit Black people?
- I appreciate the stated intention in this budget to reimagine public safety. Why are these plans still “in development,” when other cities have set up programs that redirect mental health and substance abuse and houselessness crisis situations to a response team instead of the police?
- I recognize that the City has various priorities that need funding. The cities that have moved forward on reimagining public safety are saving millions of dollars. Why isn’t that our strategy for funding Council priorities, rather than a property tax increase that will predictably harm Black people and people of limited means in a disproportionate manner? If you decide a property tax hike is necessary, what provision will you make for meaningful homeowner tax relief so that these populations aren’t severely impacted?