Asheville – Asheville City Council received public comment on how the city ought to use COVID-related funds. The city’s internal auditor, Patricia Rosenberg, said the US Treasury defined six broad categories for allowable uses: public health, economic redevelopment, essential worker pay, revenue reimbursement, infrastructure and crime response and prevention.
The city, in turn, whittled 24 categories of interest down to eight. Proposed final categories were: affordable housing, homelessness services, small business recovery, workforce development, food systems, infrastructure, domestic violence prevention and assistance and community communication. Rosenberg said about 100 grants were created under ARPA. The city will apply for those other grants to address several of the issues that did not make the cut, such as transit, childcare, utility billing, art and cultural expression, public health, environmental protection, stormwater infrastructure, multimodal transportation infrastructure, waterworks, youth programming, “community-led capacity building” for neighborhoods, civil servant bonuses, eldercare, emergency planning and recruitment and retention.
Rosenberg gave a rundown of funding the county and state received to date, portions of which may trickle down to Asheville. Buncombe County received financial assistance for emergency housing (47 vouchers), state and local fiscal recovery ($50.7 million), emergency rent payment ($7.9 million), and transportation ($1.2 million). The state had received financial assistance for state and local fiscal recovery ($5.4 billion), capital projects ($277 million), homeownership ($273 million), emergency rent payment ($547 million), domestic violence prevention ($3.7 million) and public schools ($3.6 billion). These are direct awards—county numbers do not represent subsets of state awards. The list also does not include federal grants offered to the public and private sector.
Direct allocations made to the city include $26.2 million for fiscal recovery, $4.7 million in HOME funds to disburse throughout a four-county region, $1.8 million for transportation, and a $1.6 million Shuttered Venue Operators grant for the Harrah’s Cherokee Civic Center. From the $26.2 million, council has already approved spending $3,851,637 to purchase and operate homeless shelters plus another $90,000 for Port-A-Johns. In upcoming meetings, council is expected to spend another $10,393,828 on homeless shelters.
It will also spend $1.6 million reimbursing its parking fund. The fund was depleted after providing free parking to encourage business downtown and convert street spaces to dining areas.
Councilwoman Kim Roney, in light of the “climate emergency,” said, “I don’t think that we are in a position to not address the fact that climate change outcomes are upon us now, and I think we have to look at our parking fund ongoing as if we should be driving cars, if we should be encouraging driving cars.” She thought $1.6 million would be better spent mitigating than exacerbating climate change. Another $750,000 will be spent on admin.
During council’s worksession, Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore asked that funds be availed to homeowners trying to stay in their houses as well as the homeless. She also wanted transportation improvements to help the poor get to jobs that aren’t 9-5. Roney and Councilwoman Sheneika Smith wanted more services for the elderly, who, during COVID, were stranded without food or access to healthcare, with neither buses nor taxis.
All tallied, members of the public would only be weighing in on how the city should spend the $9,698,388 left. The city has already spent through its first tranche of $13.1 million, and into its second, expected to arrive around May, 2022. If all goes according to plan, the city would announce grant recipients on December 14. The city is also seeking non-federal partners to help with its many needs.
Sherry Warner joined the usual suspects for public comment. Warner reminded council of the country’s precarious financial position. The county was getting $50.7 million. She extrapolated the numbers given by Rosenberg to all 50 states and asked what asset backed all this currency that was being devalued as she spoke.
She next asked if, “too much money falling from the sky” and “enhanced unemployment checks” had anything to do with the disproportionate homeless population, not to mention all the businesses unable to find employees, even when special training is either provided or not required. Government, she said, was making “avoidable mistakes.”
Following public comment, Councilwoman Antanette Mosley spoke of a “quandary” she is experiencing with greater frequency at council meetings. She began by talking about a meeting she had attended, as council’s liaison to the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville, at Hillcrest. It was called by residents, and all in attendance were Black.
“What was interesting, was that during that meeting, the residents spoke to police and indicated that they desired a stronger police presence in their community. They indicated that because folks who do not live in their community come in their community to commit crimes, they would like more assistance from the police.
“So, here is my quandary, and my question is rhetorical: What do we do, and to whom are we to listen when white folks come before us to tell us what black people need and black people say something polar opposite.”
She added, “When I speak directly to folks who look like me and request that they write in or come to meetings, their response is, ‘We don’t want to be talked over by white people.