Wednesday, April 26, 2017

City drops tax rate and scales back new projects

In a surprise move, the City of Asheville decided to drop the property tax rate to revenue neutral at 3.95 cents and review its budget to cut waste and over spending.

Why? It's Christmas in July except it's just April!
  • The City will see massive increases in property tax revenue because of the 30% increase in property revaluations citywide.
  • The City won its water system lawsuit, regaining millions it thought it might lose.
  • The City recently increased fees on stormwater charges, water fees, development charges, and parking fees which will bring in another $1.5 million.
  • The City has seen unprecedented hotel development, promising hundreds of thousands of new tourists in the next couple of years!
  • The City's newest tourist attraction, New Belgium, has opened with the promise of hundreds of thousands of visitors each year!

NOT. 
If it sounds too good to be true, it is.  

Despite all of this, the City Council is actually considering increasing property tax rates above revenue neutral.  How do we know?  Councilman Gordon Smith outlines the reasons why:

"..stuck in an impending sense of scarcity" - Councilman Gordon Smith

To explain in taxpayer terms between the lines:

1) The cost to finance and initially startup the $74 million bond package voters approved last November, the City would need to add an additional 3.5 cent tax. This was determined when the bond package was put forth to taxpayers back in November.

2) The cost of paying the debt payments on the City's current debt is rising. The City currently pays $12 million a year in debt payments for bonds it issued in the last 2 years ($48 million). No mention yet as to how much this will be in 2017.

3) The City is projecting an additional $1 million increase of the Transit budget.

4) The City is projecting pay raises increases from $1.5 to $2.5 million this year.

5) Lastly, but not mentioned, the City has no idea what the RADTIP project will cost to construct but at the very minimum it will be around $20 million.  Final bids will be approved in June.

Whose to blame?

Any time taxes are raised, the City Council and City Manager tries to point the finger of blame at anything but itself. This year, the City Council and City Manager, in alignment with our local media, has already begun publishing articles to that effect:

1) Blame the business owners

Joel Burgess of the Citizen-Times recently wrote an article entitled, "How Asheville does (and doesn't) tax you." In a recent budget meeting, both Mayor Manheimer and City Manager Gary Jackson, commented that "this was not an equitable budget" and the City gets no benefit from all the business growth, only the business costs such as increased tourism on our streets and crime.  What they were lamenting about is not getting any part of the hotel tax, forgetting that it is this SAME City Council that has approved the last 7 new hotel projects.  The City has also forgotten that business owners pay property taxes, larger rates on water and stormwater, business licenses fees, development fees, etc.  Most importantly, the City has forgotten that it is these businesses - beer, arts, restaurants, etc. that make Asheville attractive to so many visitors.

2) Blame the government

This week, the same local media published an opinion article by "Guest Columnist" Rich Lee, "At budget time, all hands on deck".  The Citizen-Times failed to mention that he is a candidate for City Council but did note his role on two City commissions (Greenways and Multimodal - the same commissions responsible for a huge chunk of the city's spending).  In the article, Rich Lee lays the groundwork for blaming the Federal government who is cutting funds for transit over the next 3 years (not all in one year).  Councilman Gordon Smith has already  mentioned these cuts during the budget worksessions held in March and April. (It's like these two work together.)

3) Blame the bonds 

In an odd twist, proponents of the $74 Million Bond (City Council and admittedly, Candidate Rich Lee ) are beginning to fudge the truth saying that no bond money has been spent and because of the bond lawsuit, the City will pay higher interest rates. Does Rich Lee, a financial advisor with Edward Jones, have the inside scoop on bond interest rates? If he is elected, can he buy the City bonds?

The City predetermined the amount of tax it would need to raise if the bonds were passed last year based on different tax revaluation scenarios. Council has already declared during its budget worksessions that it is going ahead with adding a 3.5 cent tax to pay for the bond costs and this was the projected cost all along, with or without a lawsuit.  Furthermore, Asheville Unreported has learned that this tax will be collected and put in the general fund wherein the City can immediately begin using it despite any lawsuit. It is not required that the City put these funds in a separate account. In other words and to be clear, the City gets its bond monies with or without the lawsuit.

4) Blame the police and the low income transit riders

Last, but certainly not least, the Council looks to blame its own police force and the low income transit riders.

Citing massive overtime, the City could spend another $1 million over the next few years and cut back overtime by $300K+ a year.  It could also manage all these tourists and new districts (South Slope was mentioned several times) that are becoming hot spots for activity.  Although Asheville has an "A" for beauty, it has an "F" for crime. Seems like doing something about that part of the report card makes sense but why blame them?

On the transit side, the City cites demand for expanding services and hours although the last time it did a transit study was in 2009 and since then it has failed to keep up with the purchase of new buses or maintenance.  In addition, the $1 million increase will NOT go directly toward expanded services but to the cost of the contract to manage the Transit - we are assuming this means more drivers and more time but that was extremely unclear during the budget worksession. In fact, many details were unclear.

The question is, who is really responsible?  The City's management and leadership:

  • Choosing Greenways over Maintenance - The City admits to not maintaining streets and parks for the last several years which is what forced the demand for the $74 million bond package and yet each year, they dedicate more and more to Greenways with each one costing at least $1 million per mile.  One example of poor maintenance is stormwater drainage. While the City has doubled its revenue from stormwater charges in the last two years, their own annual stormwater reports reflect no increase in the amount of equipment or debris removal.
  • Massive Debt instead of Affordable Housing - The City leveraged massive development projects such as RADTIP which will cost city taxpayers $25 to $35 million, even exclusive of any grants.  Not one penny of that will go toward affordable housing. The $74 million bond debt makes Asheville's per capita debt the same as Charlotte. It's a debt taxpayers will be paying on for at least the next 20 years.
  • Top Pay & More People vs. Less Work
    • The City's staff and salaries have ballooned.  All top managers earn more than $100,000 while the average income in Asheville is $28,000.  Heck, even City Council is paid well.  The Mayor, on top of her salary as a lawyer, earns another $21,000 from the City, one of the top paying councils in the region. 
    • The City Manager's department alone has grown from 1 City Manager to now employing 2 additional assistant city managers even when the City population has not dramatically increased. Gary Jackson earns $227,000 a year in salary and benefits. Combine that with the two other city managers and his department represents $600,000 a year.
    • The City's legal department prior to the current City Attorney, Robin Currin was a small staff and now is a small law firm representing $1 million of the budget.  
These are just a few examples and the tip of the iceberg in municipal financial mismanagement.  A legacy of massive debt and massive salaries are responsible for what Gordon calls the "impending sense of scarcity" in our City budget.

Report by Mari Peterson, Research and Data for Asheville Unreported

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

City of Asheville Budget Highlights - where does the money go?

Today is the 3rd and last budget worksession meeting held by the City of Asheville as they prepare to release the first draft of the 2017 fiscal year budget.  It will cover the Capital Improvements Program (see below) which last year was $27 million of the operating budget.

Here are some important numbers to keep track of as we go into this year's budget:

2016 Budget Highlights

  •  $161 million was the 2016 budget.
  • Of this, $95 million is for salaries/wages/benefits (53%), the largest expenditure. This year the City proposes another wage increase of roughly $1.8 million.
  • $46 million is spent in Operating Costs
  • $12.7 million is spent in debt service (bonds that were previously issued)
  • $16.4 million is spent in capital outlay - streets, greenways, new equipment, etc.
$27 Million Capital Improvements Program - today's budget meeting is to discuss the CIP (Capital Improvements Program), a rolling 5 year plan to pay for Capital Projects.  The total last year for the 5 years was $149 million.  $27 million of this comes from the City's operating budget and they project approximately $110 million will be paid for through debt. 

What projects get paid out of this?  Here are the main projects:
  • $9.7 million - Affordable Housing
  • $13.9 million - Public Safety (firetrucks, etc.)
  • $7.2 million - Multimodal (Greenways, Bridge repair, sidewalks)
  • $36.6 million - Economic Development (RADTIP, Greenways, Craven St improvements etc.). Radtip is the largest expenditure of $36 million that is offset by federal funds
  • $9 million - Quality of Life, i.e., Parks and Rec
  • $33 million - Maintenance





Monday, April 10, 2017

The Great Bait and Switch: Affordable Housing or Energy Bond?

Updated April 21, 2017
Last week before the City's last budget meeting, we wrote the following article. However, at the budget meeting on Tuesday, April 11th, it appears there may have been a change of heart.  The amounts have been diminished and perhaps the source of the funding. We won't know the final outcome until the budget is released in May.  Either way, this information is still relevant and one to track as the city goes back and forth on its budget plans.

Published: April 10, 2017
Last November, voters approved a $74 million bond package of which $25 million would be dedicated to Affordable Housing.  When the City promoted the $25 million affordable housing bond it stated that $15 million would go to repurposing city-owned land for affordable housing and the other $10 million would go to the Housing Trust fund.

There goes $500,000

Well, it looks like the City Council is already going back on what it promised during the 2016 summer campaign for the bonds. At the budget worksession held on March 28th, the City Council, within a series of quick moments, decided to fund the Energy Innovation Task Force's recommendations out of the Affordable Housing Bond fund money. Thus, the bait and switch of affordable housing for energy. The original request was for $1.1 million but certain council members were opposed to funding that out of the general operating fund this year.  Julie Mayfield, who championed this request on behalf of MountainTrue (Co-Director of Mountain True) at the first budget meeting, dropped her request to $500,000.

"Other cities don't do that."  Vice-Mayor Gwen Wisler

However, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Mayor Manheimer (who is up for re-election this November) were still against using the City's general fund for this purpose, stating "other cities don't do that." Eventually, Gordon Smith suggested that the Affordable Housing bond money could be used for that purpose and everyone agreed. The budget worksessions are not recorded but David Forbes tweeted the entire exchange:




Moving money around

One of the main arguments against the bonds was the "flexibility" of these bond monies and how they can be used.  In fact, as long as the use is within the same "category," i.e., "affordable housing" they can be used in a myriad of ways including consulting fees.  Essentially, the concern is potential misuse of funds by using the funds on projects that were not enumerated to the public at the time of the bond promotion and voting.

Mayor Manheimer spoke specifically to this issue during the first public bond meeting held when we reported:
The mayor confirmed that, within each given bond category, it is “technically possible” to repurpose monies for projects other than the ones officially listed in the bond questions, but said, “A lot of people are concerned about this and I wish there were some way that we didn’t have that flexibility.”  She said she stands by her position that the bond moneys should go directly to the specified projects, with no substitutions.
So, as of now, the City Council is taking $500,000 plus/minus from the Affordable Housing Bond for the Energy Innovation Task Force recommendations to be spent on the following:
  • Implement education and training for City staff, building professionals, HVAC contractors, building owners and the general public (8 & 10 on Clean energy framework).
  • Encourage voluntary, quantifiable efficiency retrofits in privately owned commercial buildings (Better Buildings Challenge as extension of existing Workplace Challenge).
  • Promote program offerings from EITF with City employees via education, outreach and support/remove barriers.
  • Support ongoing engagement of Rocky Mountain Institute in analysis of programs and creation of EITF 2-year Action Plan
  • (roughly half, $250 to $300K) Investments in existing programs that provide low income weatherization to city homes
Challenging the use

Asheville Unreported reached out to Cynthia Aiken, Assistant General Counsel for the State and Local Government Finance Division about the use of bond funds.  The City of Asheville had to apply to the state for approval to conduct the bond referendum and it is the State LGC that will issue the bonds for sale.  We asked her about challenging the city's use of bond funds and if these energy task force recommendations would be contrary to the bond issuance.  We also requested information about the City's due diligence in reporting.  

She replied on April 6th as follows:

As to your question about reporting after bonds are issued, the following are the types of reporting that the City of Asheville will make:

1.       During the course of the City’s spending of the bond proceeds on the Capital Project(s), the City Finance staff would be providing interim reports to the City Council at a frequency requested by the Council (the City staff would be able to inform you as to what frequency is required, whether monthly, quarterly, etc.).
2.       The City will submit annual audited financial statements to the Local Government Commission, due October 31 each year. The audited financial statements will include schedules (in the form of a Capital Project Fund summary) for the City’s Capital Project expenditures, including those financed by the bonds.
3.       The City is also subject to the reporting requirements of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) EMMA system (Electronic Municipal Market Access, an online database), with certain financial disclosures required by January 31 each year.

As to your question about the specific uses of bond proceeds, the proceeds are to be spent in accordance with the purposes specified in the voter-approved bond referendum and in the Bond Order(s) adopted by the City Council.  Your specific question should be addressed to the City of Asheville attorney, who will advise the council members on what Capital Projects may be funded with the bond proceeds. The City’s bond counsel should advise the City staff to ensure the bond proceeds are spent in accordance with applicable law to maintain the bonds’ legal and tax-exempt status.  The Local Government Commission would defer to the City’s legal counsel on the legality of specific projects and uses.

Spin Makes the News Go Round

The Late, Great Citizen-Times
These days “The Voice of the Mountains” is neither.
PART TWO OF TWO
By Roger McCredie


Spin Makes the News Go “Round


“I am fully aware that members of the business community consider the Asheville Citizen-Times a liberal rag. I have made some adjustments to our editorial positions. I am making some adjustments to the editorial board. I am probably bringing the paper slightly back towards the center from where it is. I’ll probably never go as far as you guys would like me to go.”
--Jeffrey Green, then-Publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times, to the Council of Independent Business Owners April, 2007
All newspapers have opinions.  In a perfect world they are expressed on the editorial page.  But human nature being what it is, journalists’ biases frequently bleed into what’s supposed to be objective news coverage.  When that is done intentionally, so as to control or even reshape a narrative, it’s called spin.  Critics say the Citizen-Times’ spin-o-meter has been running past the red line for more than a decade, driven by incomers who are less interested in informing their readers than in advancing an agenda.
Evidence to support the accusation isn’t hard to find.  When the AC-T gets the bit in its teeth about an issue, the line between reporting and editorializing becomes blurred indeed.  Moreover, the paper’s news crew uses several techniques – not very subtly -- to put across its version of events.
One is selective reporting.  Last fall, for instance, a 69-year-old woman, Shirley Teter, claimed 73-year-old Richard Campbell struck her during a Trump rally at the U. S. Cellular Center. The AC-T’s Joel Burgess dutifully reported Teter’s “experience … that ended with a man punching her in the face,” and said eyewitnesses confirmed that account. Second-hand news reports based on the AC-T’s narrative were carried by national news outlets.  

A few weeks later an undercover video surfaced in which Scott Foval, a consultant to the Democratic Party, appeared to say that Ms. Teter was in fact a “trained” political activist.  Further, other witnesses, not mentioned by the AC-T, stated Teter had initiated the contact with Campbell, who was startled when she grabbed him from behind and jerked away from her; Teter, off balance, stumbled and fell, these witnesses said.

Immediately following the emergence of the video, several national news sources reported that Teter was backpedaling, saying it was “possible” Campbell had struck her accidentally.  Nevertheless, Campbell was charged with misdemeanor assault.  His case has been through several continuances and is now set for trial later this month. But as of its own latest coverage of the incident, on March 16, the Citizen-Times has yet to mention Teter’s change of story.

Another AC-T narrative technique is Bandwagoning, which involves taking a story that will likely appeal to readership and giving it heavy and repeat coverage regardless of its intrinsic news value.  Recently Spicer-Greene, the Tiffany’s of WNC jewelers, posted a billboard showing an array of gemstones with the caption, “Sometimes it’s okay to throw rocks at girls.”  A Facebook member posted a picture of the board online, sparking an immediate and furious reaction.   The ad was called “horrifying” and was denounced as fostering “a culture of violence against women.”

The Citizen-Times was on the story like a duck on a June bug, and was careful to point out that Spicer-Greene had, in at least two other instances, used copy lines that had been objected to as “sexist” because they appeared to promote heterosexual over same-sex marriage. The story was picked up by national media, including the Washington Post  and the “Today” show. The Huffington Post’s pickup led with the headline, “Tone-Deaf Jewelry Ad Tells Customers To 'Throw Rocks At Girls' ”  In each case the Citizen-Times was duly acknowledged. 

The paper supplemented its news coverage by giving Spicer-Greene a grade of “F” on its editorial “Report Card.”  “There are better ways to sell diamonds than relying on misogynistic clich├ęs,” the paper said primly. Meanwhile, the majority of public comments on other sites (such as WLOS) thought the reaction was over the top, even for political correctness.

Then there’s the Just-Make-It-Up approach, as with Lisa Baldwin and her alleged Nazi salute.

As the lone and outspoken conservative member of the Buncombe County Board of Education, Lisa Baldwin found herself continually at odds with her colleagues, especially Chairman Bob Rhinehart. At one meeting, when Rhinehart cited a policy point in an attempt to curb Baldwin’s constant fact-checking, Baldwin snapped, “The next time I come in here, do I have to say, ‘Heil Hitler’?” Next day a report from the Citizen-Times’ Casey Blake carried the headline, “School Board Member Mocks with Nazi Salute,” claiming Baldwin had used the gesture as she made her comment.

The salute allegation went viral and touched off a firestorm of criticism on social media sites. Letters to the AC-T castigated Baldwin for improper conduct and lack of sensitivity. Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle accused her of “trivializing the Holocaust.” Baldwin’s fellow board members received an anonymous letter calling for her to be censured on record.

Thing is, the salute never happened.  The meeting had been videotaped, with Baldwin in the frame at all times.  A frame-by-frame analysis showed she made no gesture at all, let alone a Nazi salute, while speaking.  Boyle, when pressed, said, “Well, the video is inconclusive. But she shouldn’t have made the Hitler reference.”  Blake made no comment.
Loftier Issues
One recent Sunday (March 19) the AC-T treated readers to a look inside its corporate head with a double dose of outrage.
The paper’s lead editorial was a howl of protest against the forces advocating repeal of Obamacare – although the paper somewhat undermined its broadside by opining, further down, that it would never happen.  The piece itself was unremarkable but once again the headline was the hook.  It read: “ ‘Conservative’ Doesn’t Have To Mean ‘Heartless’.”
And over in his own column that same day, John Boyle’s mask of genial condescension slipped.  Apparently smarting from a political argument with a family member, he lashed out at conservatives in general, saying they “have always wanted: to keep things exactly the same, and that means no progress.” 
He went on:  “They've opposed freedom for slaves, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed women's voting rights, opposed the 40-hour work week and restrictions on child labor (really, they oppose anything that can cut into profits, including nearly all regulation) …” 
And meanwhile, back in WNC …
Just inside the front doors of the Citizen-Times building, set into the floor, is a giant map of Western North Carolina, each county a different shade of polished granite with its name in brass: Clay, Swain, Polk, Avery … all those places the AC-T boasts of serving.. And a nearby wall proudly displays the masthead:  Asheville Citizen-Times/Voice of the Mountains.
The grand old slogan has become a glib management mantra.  In the wake of last October’s newsroom purge, newly arrived News Director Katie Wadington – who some speculated had been promoted to conduct the herd-thinning – stated:
“On Wednesday, we will regroup, still intent on giving readers in-depth coverage of the Asheville area, telling its stories and being its watchdog. Our front page says we are the ‘Voice of the Mountains,’ and we still be that voice.”
But outside the greenway belt, from Old Fort to Robbinsville, and in city neighborhoods where life is not all bikes and beer, the voice seems mighty quiet.
So quiet you can almost hear the ordinary people of Western North Carolina murmuring, “What happened to our voice?”

Click here to read Part 1: The Late, Great Citizen-Times
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The Late, Great Citizen-Times

These days “The Voice of the Mountains” is neither.
PART ONE OF TWO

By Roger McCredie
The first paper in Asheville
The Highland Messenger, 1840
It was the paper of John Parris and Bob Terrell.  Of Nancy Marlowe and Susan Reinhardt.  And latterly of Tony Kiss, Barbara Blake and Bob Berghaus.  O. Henry and F. Scott Fitzgerald used to hang out in its newsroom.  Young Thomas Wolfe trudged Asheville’s predawn streets delivering copies from a bag filled by his brother Ben, who worked in circulation.
The paper found its way each morning into battered mailboxes at the ends of dirt driveways from Morganton to Murphy. Each morning it appeared in racks on small-town sidewalks, on the shelves of general stores, and in little local libraries where readers who didn’t have a spare nickel for their own copies could at least read one second-hand.  Each morning the Asheville Citizen-Times fed news and features and sports to information-hungry Western North Carolina, the state’s redheaded stepchild.  It was, for many years, “The Voice of the Mountains,” just as its masthead claimed.
For many years.
The House Gannett Built
These days the Voice of the Mountains is a very small cog in the wheel-within-a-wheel marketing/media giant, Gannett Company.  Its physical version is printed at the foot of the hills, in Asheville’s smaller but richer neighbor, Greenville, S.C., which is Gannett’s regional headquarters. The members of its dwindling staff have Greenville telephone numbers.  And the paper is run by middle-management Gannett soldiers whose rate of turnover resembles a Sunday morning at IHOP, some of whom actually do their administrating from Greenville.
Gannett acquired the Citizen-Times, formerly a part of Multimedia, Inc., in 1996, and the first publisher under the new regime was Virgil Smith.  In accordance with The Way Things Used To Be, Smith’s ten-year tenure was marked by his close personal involvement with his adopted city.  He was not only the paper’s public face but its direct link to his readers.  He is presently a trustee emeritus of UNCA.
But after Smith came the deluge.  In rapid succession Jeffrey Greene, Randy Hammer and Dave Neill occupied Smith’s chair.  The chair of the present publisher, Tom Claybaugh, is located in Greenville, and from it Claybaugh publishes both the Citizen-Times and the Greenville News.
The “Newsroom of the Future”
As with executive management, so with editorial oversight.  Larry Pope, who saw in the Gannett transition as News Director (the term “Editor” seemed to have disappeared) was followed in rapid succession by Bob Gabordi, Phil Fernandez, Susan Ihne, Josh Awtry, Katie Wadington.
Ihne filed a $15 million harassment lawsuit against her boss, Hammer, which was settled out of court.  Awtry swept in from New Belium’s headquarters, Ft. Collins, Colorado, announcing the “Newsroom of the Future,” (see below) but was moved first up, to Regional Vice President, and then out, to Gannett headquarters in Virginia.  Katie Wadington is currently the editorial honcho; she appeared on the scene last year.
There’s a rumor, in fact, that Wadington, an AC-T staffer since 2005, was promoted specifically to preside over the paper’s 2016 round of firings, in which several key Citizen-Times reporters and editors, some with decades of service, bit the dust.  Among them were editorial page editor Jim Buchanan; Kiss, the AC-T’s iconic “Beer Guy; Berghaus, the sports editor; and longtime where-and-when writer Dale Neal.
That was the latest in a string of Asheville staff purges that started in 2007 and continued into 2008.

Most of those let go early on were in support services, but in 2013 the corporate axe felled a senior photographer, two editors, and popular feature writer Jason Sandford. Then, in 2014,  there were more key layoffs,  even as Awtry grandly announced the coming of “the newsroom of the future” and said the paper would be creating as many as 30 new positions to staff it. “What I want more than anything is a room full of people who love their job,” Awtry said back then. “ I want a room full of people who have some passion for this … “
But The Newsroom of The Future hasn’t happened.
“Never mind all that; what happened to my paper?”
Many Citizen-Times readers these days say they don’t much know and don’t much care about what’s happening up the line; they just know their newspaper is much smaller and much thinner, but costs much more ($1.50 daily, $2.00 on Sunday).  It also costs to read the AC-T online; browsers get a couple of free passes, then are “paywalled” as a pop-up informs them they can access content for $19.95 a year.
That’s not much bang for the buck,” one reader said.
Apparently others share that opinion. The hard-copy Citizen-Times has suffered a whopping 42% decline in its Sunday readership and a 36% drop in daily circulation since 2008.  This decline far outstrips the national rate of attrition, which, according to Pew Research, is about 9% for that period, and which experts say is due almost entirely to the combined impact of cable news and the Internet.

Market watchers say much of the difference may lie with a parent company whose management style seems akin to Attila the Hun’s, and which places little to no value on local news.  (Since the late 90’s, the paper, has closed its regional news bureaus in WNC and Raleigh and presently operates with a crew of only 11 reporters at home.)  But homefolks are abandoning the AC-T because of a lack of meaningful content – “It’s nothing but filler and propaganda and some ads,” one said – and because they’re put off by the paper’s naked partisanship.
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Judge denies motion to dismiss anti-bond lawsuit

Plaintiffs win round one
By Roger McCredie
A Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a motion by the City of Asheville to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to have the results of last November’s $74 bond referendum declared invalid on grounds that the bond language was misleading.
Judge R. Greg Horne said in his order that the action, brought by retired attorney Sidney M. Bach and former Asheville Vice Mayor Chris Peterson, “is sufficient to state a claim,” meaning that the case will now proceed.
Bach and Peterson filed their suit on December 20, charging that the language of the bond questions, as approved by city council and presented to voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, was “defective,” causing “an unfair misrepresentation of material facts” that made all three bond questions “inaccurate, prejudicial and misleading.”
The public notices advertising referendum said the city “shall” or “will” levy new taxes in an amount sufficient to pay for the bonds.  But a subsequent city council resolution backed off that language and substituted the phrase “may be levied,” making it sound as though there were a possibility issuing the bonds might not, after all, result in a tax increase.  “May be levied” was the wording used on the actual ballot.
But, the suit alleges, the city was always fully aware that the bonds, if passed, would raise taxes.  Changing the wording to “may” on the ballots rendered the entire statement false and constituted a misrepresentation, the suit says.
Asheville Attorney Albert Sneed is representing Bach and Peterson.  Judge Horne’s order names City Attorney Robin Currin, Deputy City Attorney Kelly Whitlock, and Assistant City Attorney Catherine Hofmann as counsel for the city.
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