The agenda for the June 8th City Council meeting has been released, and there is promising news in it: Council has listened to the request for a standalone vote on Reparations funding, with the amount doubled from the original proposal. This is an important step in the right direction, and we applaud City Council for their approach. Now it’s necessary that they take the next important step and vote to approve this funding at the meeting.
Click here for an email template that articulates these points.
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 this and other important issues that Council is deliberating on right now.
To call city officials:
- City Manager Debra Cambell – 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
Other Issues for Advocacy with City Council
On Reparations: Everyone agrees that it will take a lot more than $2 million to even begin to offer reasonable restitution and compensation to Black Asheville, and that 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 has the City not moved forward on establishing this structure?
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. There is money in the general (or “rainy day”) fund that could cover all or most of these costs. We would suggest that this is such a rainy day. Thousands of homeowners will be harmed because of the serious flaws that have come to light in the appraisal process. Why won’t the City postpone their property tax hike until next year, so that they can work with Buncombe County to identify and address the serious problems in the home value appraisal process and ensure that future property taxes are levied in an equitable manner?
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 $150,000 be set aside to fund a property owner tax relief program. There is no way that such a small amount of money will be able to offset the inequitable outcomes of this proposed property tax. Such a plan will only work if it is broad in scope, easy to apply for, and contains provisions to support lower-income homeowners and renters. Will the City pledge to establish a much more robust and far-reaching tax relief program, one that protects tenants as well as homeowners, 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 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.
Subject: Thank you
Dear City Council Member,
I am writing today to thank you for agreeing to consider the funding of Reparations at your next meeting on June 8th. I urge you to take the next crucial step and vote yes on this item. As you know, the $2.1 million proposed for Reparations seed money is already available. Voting for this funding will communicate to everyone, and especially Asheville’s Black communities, that City Council is backing up last year’s Reparations Resolution with concrete action and real dollars.
Where You Live