Massive Tree Cutting on French Broad River Begins

Back in February we wrote about the planned massive tree cutting for the French Broad River in the River Arts District of Asheville. The planned cutting is to make way for people to enjoy new greenways and bike paths and those darn trees are obstructing the view.  Here's the Tree Report that was published at that time.

We also wrote about the Asheville Tree Commission, whom we learned has no say in City projects such as greenway projects. We learned that the City doesn't even use its own Tree Commission and on board arborists to review the projects.  We wrote about it in this article, "Asheville Tree Commission can't see the forest for the trees"

Asheville Unreported's Roger McCredie, recently wrote about the City's own lack of a Tree Ordinance.  Click here to read that article.

Well, the time has come and the City has now begun its massive tree cutting.  Here's a video taken today, September 9, 2016 showing the trees being chopped:



And, here's the earlier video from February 2016 showing the trees that no longer exist:

Asheville Unreported: If they won't cover it, we will.

So. We've extended the scope of our research and investigation from the River to the rest of the City and County and launched www.AshevilleUnreported.com.  If they won't cover it, we will. Check it out and sign up.

Why?

We learned a lot when we dug into the facts about the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project, aka RADTIP and also known as Asheville River Boondoggle..

We witnessed the cronyism, conflicts of interest, and misrepresentation of information both by our City and by our local media all in the name of tourism and Big Corporate Beer pandering...

We saw how only property owners that agreed with the City were invited to be interviewed or considered "stakeholders" and how other opposing property owners were not heard...

We witnessed the City's own staff attorney trying to get a job with New Belgium while also working on their agreements with the City and also being involved in the property takings... (article)

But we really learned that this extends far beyond the French Broad River.  This project is costing $25 Million to City Taxpayers - 4 years worth of what our Capital Improvement Budget used to be before this crew came in.  

But now, because they've over run their budget, they need more. 

The City lied and said it would not increase property taxes this year but a week after passing the budget introduced a $75 Million Bond Referendum that will result in additional $36 MILLION in interest payments alone to taxpayers.  These interest payments must be paid for by increasing property taxes.  You will see a huge increase in your property taxes AT MINIMUM.  If you rent... get ready for a rent increase because landlords will pass these increases on to you. This is on top of other City service rates that were increased - trash, water, stormwater, etc. 

Bond Analysis: South Asheville Taxpayers get left out again

1.1% of $74 Million Bond will benefit South Asheville

Bond Analysis
According to the City of Asheville's projected plans for the $74 million bond it wants taxpayers to approve in November, only $825,000 will directly benefit South Asheville taxpayers and voters and it will all go toward a park, the Jake Rush Park.
None of the $32 million transportation portion is allocated for improvements in South Asheville. 
None of the $25 million affordable housing portion will go to South Asheville. Actually, half of that goes to private developers ($12 million) and the other half goes to the City to buy land or houses with the intention of keeping them affordable but the developers nor the properties have been identified.
Only $825,000 of the $17 million parks and rec portion will directly benefit South Asheville residents.
To see a detailed list of proposed projects for each area of the bond, see the article in the Citizen-Times dates July 11, 2016, "What would $74M buy for Asheville?"

South Asheville left out again
In recent months South Asheville has come up in the news when a districting bill was introduced that would have given voice to South Asheville residents who feel they have none.  Now, it looks like they're left out again but they're expected to help pay for it.

The Bond's financial burden: $36.2 Million in Interest
The $74 million bond will cost $36.2 million in interest payments.  Those interest payments will be paid for by taxpayers through a property tax increase.  So, South Asheville residents and businesses will be looking at an increase of 5 to 10% more in property taxes in order to pay for the bond.  Plus, South Asheville residents will see an additional increase when Buncombe County does their reassessment.

PS. South Asheville residents should voice their concern at the City Council meeting August 9th where residents can make public comments.

Where does it go?
More analysis coming but most of it goes to Central Downtown, parts of Biltmore Village, a little to West Asheville and North Asheville.  A portion goes to East Asheville, mostly to connect the City to Warren Wilson College students, the alma mater of several of our City Council members (past and present).




How many city attorneys does it take to change a light bulb?


Probably one.  For everything else, a staff of seven.  And a $1M budget.

By Roger McCredie

In 2005, Asheville had a population of just over 73,000. In 2016 the population is reckoned at just under 83,400, representing an increase of 14.2 per cent.

And over the same 11 years the city attorney’s office has grown from five employees to a full-time staff of seven, an increase of 35.7 per cent.

The total 2005 budget for the city’s legal department, including its five-employee payroll, was $569,567. Its projected 2016-2017 budget, including its seven-person staff’s compensation, is $982,182, a 47 per cent increase over 2005.

In the not-all-that-distant past, the City Attorney was a lawyer in private practice who was simply paid a retainer by the city to offer legal opinions, and handle or supervise such matters requiring an attorney’s services, as might from time to time be necessary.

These days the city’s in-house legal team occupies spacious digs on the second floor of City Hall. Five of its seven employees are attorneys who work for the city full-time and two of those five – four if you include the city’s comprehensive benefit packages – are paid more than $100,000 dollars a year. In fact, head City Attorney Robin Currin’s annual compensation, including benefits, comes to more than twice that.

Asheville River Gate obtained comparison figures for city attorneys in several cities of comparable size to Asheville statewide and found that Currin is the highest paid city attorney among those municipalities examined. Currin’s annual base salary of $177,700 outstrips those of Fayetteville ($165,185.20), Wilmington ($158,331), Gastonia ($139,502) and Hickory ($102,192).

The actual breakdown of the city’s legal staff’s compensation is shown below. The left hand column shows base salaries; the figures at right are estimated total compensation values obtained by taking the total department fringe benefits amount budgeted ($176,213), dividing it by seven ($25,173) and adding it to each base salary figure to obtain an estimated package amount:
Attorney
Base Salary
Estimated w/ Benefits
Robin Currin, City Attorney
$177,700
$202,873
Jannice Ashley
$  83,648
$108,821
Kelly Whitlock, Deputy CA
$102,489
$127,662*
John Maddux
$  78,575
$103,748
Catherine Hoffman
$  67,611
$  92,874
Charlotte Hutchison (Researcher)
$  60,189
$  85,362  
Sarah Terwilliger (Exec. Asst.)
$  34,164
$  59,340



*According to the city budget, “The Deputy City Attorney position is not covered by the Civil Service Law. The vacancy [since filled] was created by the retirement of the incumbent in the position.

In addition to staff compensation, the legal department’s budget has allocated $176,213 for “operating expenses.” In the budget document, that figure is accompanied by a footnote that reads:

“Contracted funding with an outside legal firm for representation at the North Carolina General Assembly was moved from the non-departmental section of the budget to the City Attorney budget after adoption of the FY 2015-2016 and is reflected in the 2016-2017 budget under operating cost.”
There is no further breakdown of the department’s “operating costs” category, nor any elaboration as to what “representation at the North Carolina General Assembly” by an outside law firm includes. There is also no allusion to fees for outside legal preparation and appearance on the city’s behalf in the upcoming State Supreme Court appeal hearing on the city’s lawsuit against the General Assembly over the Asheville Water System. Presumably those monies are included in the city’s $46.3 million “operating costs” category.

The city’s taxpayer-funded litigation in that case has already cost about $700,000 and the Supreme Court hearing is expected to push that figure well past a million dollars. (Some observers say that taking the water case to the high court level is a costly exercise in futility. Others think Asheville has no choice but to give a Supreme Court appeal its best shot, if only for the sake of being able to say it has exhausted all its possibilities. The court heard oral arguments in May and is expected to rule in November.)

The present city attorney is Robin Currin, who assumed the position in May of 2014. She was recruited from the Raleigh firm of Currin & Currin, which she co-founded with her husband. Prior to forming that partnership, she was a partner at Poyner & Spruill, where, according to her bio, she was “recognized as one of the state’s top zoning/land use attorneys.” Her legal background is remarkably similar to that of Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, an attorney with the Van Winkle Law Firm. Manheimer’s areas of concentration is commercial litigation, especially with regard to creditors’ rights, land disputes and foreclosures.

An early eyebrow-raiser in Currin’s tenure was her ruling about a possible conflict of interest in the city’s Eagle/Market Street Project which touched both a sitting member of City Council and Currin’s predecessor, Martha Walker-McGlohon, who served as interim city attorney from July of 2013 until Currin’s appointment.

In October, 2013, work on the 90,000-square-foot, multi-use Eagle/Market Street building ceased abruptly when massive cracks appeared in a second-story concrete floor slab only days after the concrete had been poured. The damage was laid at the feet of the project supervisor, Chris Bauer, who is the brother-in-law of Councilman Gordon Smith. When the family connection between Bauer and Smith – who had voted for Bauer’s appointment – became public knowledge, McGlohon was asked for her opinion. She replied that there had been no conflict of interest in Smith’s promoting Bauer.

It later developed that the estate of McGlohon’s late husband, Howard, was a partner in Eagle Market Street Development Company, the owner of the property.

So, given that state-level representation and super-important stuff are contracted out to commercial law firms, what do the denizens of the second floor at city hall do all day?

According to the city’s website, the city attorney’s staff members, perform the following functions:
  • Implement city goals and objectives through appropriate legal processes. 
  • Assist in the development and presentation of legislative programs. 
  • Initiate or defend legal action as necessary in support of city goals and objectives. 
  • Provide research and advice to City Council in support of Council initiatives. 
  • Provide continued high quality legal service to internal as well as external customers. 
  • Provide or arrange for effective legal representation for all lawsuits. 
And how does that translate into a million-dollar operating budget?

“It’s the managerial style,” said one former city employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. “For one thing, the city manager’s office refers every little thing over to the city attorney’s office. I’m sure there’s enough paper shuffling to keep them occupied.”

As for light bulb changing, it is not mentioned among staffers’ job descriptions.

_______________________________________________________________

ROGER McCREDIE is a well-known Asheville-based journalist. His investigative reporting for the Asheville Tribune on such topics as New Belgium Beer, the "Bruingate" bear hunting sting and the city's takeover of Pack Place earned national attention.  His feature writing appears regularly in Capital at Play magazine and he contributes to several blogs including the recently launched "Tavern Voices."

Attention: Property Owners in River Arts District - Deadlines Looming for RADTIP Asheville

ATTENTION PROPERTY OWNERS

IN THE RADTIP (River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project) AREA
also known as River Arts District, Asheville, NC

Property owners in the RADTIP area have been receiving their low ball appraisals from the City of Asheville. Artists in buildings have been put on notice to vacate (click here to read more).

Deadlines Looming:
According to a memo from Gary Jackson, the City Manager of Asheville, the city was awarded a Tiger VI grant in September 2014 that provides $11 million of the construction funding for the 2.2 mile RADTIP project occuring in the River Arts District of Asheville. In order for the City to actually receive these funds, two milestone dates must be reached:

June 30, 2016 - The City must provide evidence that they can obligate funds and expend such funds by September 30, 2021.  Pay attention to this year's budget as this will help provide the proof that they need.
September 30, 2016 - According to the memo, this is the most important milestone - the City must have all pre-construction activities completed which includes planning (environmental documentation), design and right-of-way. All right-of-way must be purchased and recorded by this date.

Asheville City Attorneys Office faces scrutiny and criticism

"Asheville’s City Attorney has consistently taken stances against basic government transparency. It’s time for Council, and the people, to demand better of a major public servant" 
AshevilleBlade.com

and more...

"In Currin’s case, she answers directly to Council, people we elect not just to work with city staff but also to monitor, question and, yes, overrule and censure them when it’s merited. Checks and balances, after all, only work if there are leaders willing to check and balance. The buck stops with them, and any local elected official anywhere should always remember that.
The city of Asheville is not simply another corporate client, it has power and funds on the condition that it uses them on behalf of the city’s populace and that obligation extends to everyone that works for it. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Right now the people of Asheville are poorly served by one of their major public servants’ repeated dismissal of basic open government. It’s time for that to change."


Couldn't have said it better.

Let us remind you of the conflicts of interest at the City Attorney's Office from our previous article, New Belgium & City of Asheville: Conflicts of Interest Do Not Apply

Tree Report of River Arts District, RADTIP U-5019 Project

Here is a tree report of one section of the River Arts District RADTIP project area:

(Click here to download report)

To whom it may concern:

My name is Royce Clay, owner of Royce’s Tree Service in Asheville, NC. I am a Certified Arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and have been for about ten years. Between 2004­2012 I was the arborist crew leader at the Biltmore Estate, where I learned from some of the best mentors in the industry.

On February 23, 2016, I was hired by Mari and Chris Peterson to survey the riverbank trees on the property they own behind 12 Bones restaurant, and those on the riverbank at the Jean Webb park.

This report details the tree species composition and approximate age on the land at 5 Riverside Drive, near 12 Bones restaurant, stretching from the “Gennett Lumber” billboard seen along Riverside Drive to the Craven Street Bridge. Here is a short video showing some of the trees:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbriWjChnos&feature=em­upload_owner

I spent about an hour walking the riverbank and tallying the diameter inches of each tree species I found. Below is a table showing my findings:

Scientific tree name Common tree name Total diameter inches

Scientific tree name Common tree name Total diameter inches

(approximate)


To understand a little more about the table above, per­tree diameter inches are calculated at “breast height”, or DBH. To put these numbers more into perspective, a 24” dbh tree would be considered large by most. A 24” tree would be difficult to hug ­your fingers wouldn’t touch. In short, there are a lot of trees, and a lot of diameter inches of trees, along this property. Dead trees were included in the above table because they often provide perches for birds of prey, and other wildlife habitat benefits.

Figure 1. Even dead trees provide necessary riverside habitat.

Figure 2. A sycamore tree showing awesome root structure and streamside retention

Why are all of these trees important to the river, and thus, Asheville itself?

Trees along rivers make up riparian buffer zones. From Wikipedia: A riparian buffer​is a vegetated area (a "buffer​strip") near a stream, usually forested, which helps shade and partially protect a stream from the impact of adjacent land uses. It plays a key role in increasing water quality in associated streams, rivers, and lakes, thus providing environmental benefits.

Riparian buffer areas slow the effects of erosion. They keep the inevitable erosion of streambanks to a minimum. These buffer areas also provide shade for the river, providing fish and wildlife habitat. These areas also slow the runoff from major precipitation events, decreasing the chance for flooding downstream. The benefits of these areas are numerous and well­ known. Trees in these areas should not be cut unless absolutely necessary.

Removing the trees from riparian areas can have devastating effects on the land from which they were removed, as well as downstream. Banks erode, sediment and soil go downstream, water temperatures rise, wildlife suffers. The list of negative effects is long and difficult to remediate. Replanting is a nice way to get a riverbank to stop eroding, but a better, more efficient and cost­effective way is to not cut the trees down in the first place. Keep those trees that anchor the river bank free from compaction and construction damage as well. In other words, treat the trees as the priceless (and price­less) structural workhorses they are. Stands like these, with trees from 50­ - 100 years old, take exactly that long to replace.

(Click here to download report)

If you are concerned about the potential of important trees being cut down and the environmental impact of this project, contact your Asheville City Council (emails listed below):

esthermanheimer@avlcouncil.com
gwenwisler@avlcouncil.com
cecil@braveulysses.com
brianhaynes@avlcouncil.com
juliemayfield@avlcouncil.com
gordonsmith@avlcouncil.com
keithyoung@avlcouncil.com

AARRC Expands; Form Based Code to Expand; No Property Tax Increases

Last week we met with the City of Asheville staff to ask questions about the RADTIP project. We asked questions our local media, the Citizen-Times fails to ask and we found out the following:

1) The commission in charge of the River Arts District development plan (the massive $60 million RADTIP construction project) wishes to expand it's scope. They feel their work with the River Arts District is coming to a close as the construction project is almost underway.  They told us they wish to start looking at development areas along the rest of the Swannanoa River Road (i.e., Sweeten Creek area, Biltmore Village area) and the French Broad River areas.  What does that mean? We don't know but it does mean more control and regulations and probably taxes.

2) We asked about the Form Based Code being presented in the River Arts District and asked if they are going to present the same thing in other parts of the City.  They confirmed that they do wish to expand form based code in other areas. Look out. Form based code is probably coming to downtown and South Asheville.

3) On a side note, they did confirm that they do not plan on increasing property taxes for this year's budget but that they do plan on increasing program fees and parking fees and other fees.



City of Asheville requesting flood restrictions to be lifted in the River Arts District

City moves forward with development in flood-prone River Arts District 
but wants to do it WITHOUT complying with flood standards.

On March 28th the Board of Adjustment for City of Asheville is holding a meeting to consider the following:


"Stacy Merten, on behalf of the City of Asheville, is requesting a variance to flood regulations in 7-12-1(e)(2)(e)(1)(ii) to allow for the HISTORIC STRUCTURE at 14 Riverside Drive to be renovated WITHOUT FULLY COMPLYING WITH FLOOD PROTECTION STANDARDS." (Picture of notice at the end of this article).

This is picture of flooding beside 14 Riverside Drive in 2004, rising to the top of 12 Bones at 5 Riverside Drive. 

SHOULD THE CITY BE ALLOWED TO NOT FULLY COMPLY WITH FLOOD PROTECTION STANDARDS?

Another example of the hypocrisy of our City.  Private property owners would not be allowed such a variance but the City plans to renovate 14 Riveside Drive (the building next to 12 Bones) as a Visitors Center. The City is also considering renting space to retailers. You would think the retailers would want their products to be safe from flooding...They wish to do so without complying with flood protection standards. This variance would probably not be approved for a private developer or property owner.

City plans below:

Click here for the excerpt from the City's own Riverfront Redevelopment Plan addressing the issues and plans

Here's an article explaining from Ashevegas.

See the notice below - item #4.


Asheville Tree Commission: Can't see the forests for the trees

CITY DOESN'T PROTECT ITS OWN TREES
The City of Asheville likes to protect its trees - at least the trees on private property, that is.  When it comes to its own trees, that's a different matter. Recently, this has come up in the Beaucatcher Greenway (1 of 19 planned by the City) in which 85 mature native trees will be cut down and replaced by a paved greenway going to nowhere (it doesn't connect to anything, just an overlook). For further explanation, read this article in Mountain X.

RIVER ARTS DISTRICT TREES TO BE CUT
We decided to investigate since no one has mentioned the many trees, several over 100 years old that will be impacted by the RADTIP project - $60 million to put in greenways, bike paths and road realignment for New Belgium trucks in the River Arts District. This is one of the largest developments being run by the City and we wondered why no local environmental groups or at least the City's tree commission hasn't looked into it. One of the trees we identified by hiring an arborist, located a tree of which there are only 41 in the City of Asheville according to their Asheville Tree Map.

HISTORY OF BAD CITY DEVELOPMENT
The City's own history of how it treats money and its own natural resources is a fail.  Example: Pack Square Park used to have lots of trees and grass. The City cut down most of the mature trees in the park, paved over all the grass replacing it with concrete and then ended up spending $20 million instead of the $10 million it had originally projected. Now they have to spend 2.3 million redoing toxic turf on the soccer fields they just completed. So you see why we don't trust the City with a project that will forever change the landscape in the River Arts District.  In addition, the City has 21 planned Greenways (click here for map) which this Tree Commission has no clue about and will not be reviewing. Apparently, our City can't see the forests for the greenways.

Citizens should ask themselves, does the City have to follow its own guidelines?  
Apparently not. While citizens are always informed about new hotels or developments they rarely get a glimpse into the details of the City's own projects and only when they turn out to be a disaster.

We attended the City of Asheville Tree Commission meeting on March 21st.  We attended to find out if the City is:

a) aware of the RADTIP project (2.2 miles on French Broad River in the River Arts District) which will remove several important trees

b) if the City has to follow the same guidelines it's own Tree Commission enforces.

We learned the following:

TREE COMMISSION GUIDELINES DO NOT APPLY TO 
CITY OF ASHEVILLE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

This Commission said they no nothing about this RADTIP project and have not reviewed it or discussed it.
Quite unbelievable when you consider that this $50 to $60 million investment on the River has been the talk of the town ever since New Belgium announced in 2012.
There are number of mature trees that will be cut down along the French Broad River for this project. What is this commission doing to protect them? Or, like the Beaucatcher Greenway, the City would rather cut down 100 year old mature trees to replace them with a paved greenway?
The City of Asheville does NOT hold it's own development projects to the same standards it requires of private citizens who landscape their properties, business owners who landscape their businesses or developers who plan important growth structures. How do we know this? Because this commission doesn't even review the City's projects so how would it know?

Again, like the City's planned Beaucatcher Greenway, this commission did not review the plans until citizens raised and voiced their concerns.... speaking of:

BEAUCATCHER GREENWAY UPDATE

The Tree Commission provided an update about this Greenway. Turns out all the fuss raised over it raised the attention of this Commission who sent 4 tree folks up to tour the path of the greenway. They reported that there is a 200 year old tree (Red Oak), possibly the oldest of its kind in Asheville, that should be protected.  They identified several other trees that should be protected. Looks like this Commission may have some say in the matter afterall - although they were brought into it quite late.

DID YOU KNOW... DURING THIS MEETING WE ALSO LEARNED.....

VOLUNTEER GROUP WITH POWER OVER YOUR PROPERTY

We were reminded that this is a volunteer commission; however, this same commission is who you go to when you wish to appeal an action taken by the Public Works Director.  For example, if you are a developer or private property owner and you receive a notice fining you for improper tree cutting on your property, you can appeal to the Tree Commission. So, while volunteer, this same commission has limited rights over your property, including recommendations to the UDO which impacts every property owner or business owner.

WATCH BUREAUCRACY GROW

During this one hour meeting, we watched the Tree Commission literally grow. In addition to their current roster of about 3 subcommittees (could be more), they created FIVE more subcommittees. You can join any of the subcommittees. What do you get? Free lunch. You can't vote or be a chair but your input is welcome. Contact the Tree Commission folks to get on one of these subcommittees. The regular board member number is 14 but in one sitting, they've literally doubled their own size.

MONTHLY FREE LUNCH

If you would like a free lunch, attend the City of Asheville Tree Commission meeting every 3rd Monday at Noon at the Public Works Building on South Charlotte Street.  Those in attendance who never reported anything - most were extra staff people, get to eat a fabulous catered lunch paid for by you the taxpayers.

There are 14 board members but we counted 25 people in attendance, not including us (we were the only ones there for public comment). Several of the members had nothing to report and several attendees were simply extra staff from various organizations and departments of the City. I guess a free lunch will make you want to attend a meeting about trees.

This Tree Commission apparently can't see the forests for the trees. With a rapidly growing commission (more people attended this meeting than attend a City Council meeting) adding 5 more subcommittees, this group is completely unaware of the City's own destruction of important, historic, treasured trees it plans on cutting down and replacing with paved greenways and bike paths. 

For more about the Asheville Tree Commission, visit the City's website page about it.



Asheville Stormwater: Down the Drain

Update: as of the last report, there were something like 38 employees working on Stormwater in Asheville.  Looks like they need another one. Here is a job posting for a Stormwater Supervisor with pay between $54,000 and $65,000 roughly and only have to work 37.5 hours a week!

As part of the upcoming RADTIP road construction, greenways, bike paths and sidewalks planned for the River Arts District, we are finally going to get some drainage... stormwater drainage, that is.

Why is this important? Because we have none, even though the City has been collecting millions each year for this very purpose.

Everyone recalls the great flood of 2004 (and if you don't, click here for details) which wiped out many businesses in Biltmore Village and also flooded the entire banks of the French Broad River and the River Arts District.  There was more damage in Biltmore Village because there were more businesses located there. Nevertheless, we should have learned our lesson and moved quickly to mitigate future flooding or, so you would think. As of today, more than 10 years later, no stormwater drainage has been added to Biltmore Village or the River Arts District and yet the City of Asheville collects millions of dollars each year in stormwater taxes from the taxpaying citizens of Asheville.

You have to wonder why did it take so long and when are they going to fix the problem? Biltmore Village has grown even more and yet, we still wait on stormwater drainage.

Below is a compilation of articles written on the matter, mostly by Roger McCredie at the Tribune Papers.  As the Tribune continues its investigation, we will keep you informed on the matter:

ARTICLES ABOUT STORMWATER FEES IN ASHEVILLE

August 15, 2002
Citizen-Times: The 'rain tax' cometh: be prepared to pay the government for the rain on your roof
Explains what stormwater is, the history of the tax and what other cities like Greensboro do with the tax funds collected
"Storm water runoff is the water that flows off impervious surface areas such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, and other hard surfaces during rainstorms. Rather than being absorbed into the ground, it pours into ditches, culverts, catch basins, and storm sewers."

September 9, 2013: By Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: Tracking Asheville’s Raintax:The money flows in (always); the money flows out (sometimes)
Tribune tracks down the stormwater fees and where it goes, finding a gap:
"But everything’s relative. Take that same $2.34 and double it; that’s $4.68. That’s the flat rate Asheville residents pay in stormwater fees with each bimonthly water bill cycle. Multiply that by six bimonthly cycles and you get $28.08 a year. Multiply that total by the Asheville Water Department’s total number of customers and you’ll get a total of a little over $3.3 million. That’s the gross amount the city takes in annually, in stormwater revenue.
When the itemized expenditure figures, totaling $13,896,552, are subtracted from the $17,622,027 gross revenue, a balance of $3,725,505, or 21%, is left unaccounted for."
June 25, 2014: by John Boyle
Citizen-Times Answer Man: More on Bothwell's DWI, Stormwater Fees
The City's budget in 2014 for stormwater fees was $3 million. John Boyle gives his answer as to where those fees go.
As far as salaries, Coates said 28.5 employee positions are funded through the stormwater utility fund, and they perform the duties listed above, with the addition of one customer service representative who handles billing. Of those positions, 21.5 work in Public Works and six in Development Services.

November 17, 2014: by Roger McCredie
Tribune renews 'rain tax' investigation
City of Asheville announces increase in stormwater tax fees so the Tribune investigates the question: Why?
"This year, however, the city announced that it was raising rates because “the City of Asheville has experienced an increase in significant rainfall events,” necessitating “an increase in “stormwater maintenance, engineering analysis and construction improvements.”
January 26, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: Where does stormwater tax money go?
City of Asheville announced another increase in stormwater fees. The Tribune follows up its investigation to determine where the funds are going:
"According to the City, it pays not only for repairing and maintaining surfaces and infrastructure impacted by rainwater but for a whole spectrum of services and programs, from street sweeping and drain inspection to “educational outreach” and “floodplain information.”
February 10, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: As residents question stormwater fees, new bout of flooding closes streets
Summary: A quick dump of 2 to 3 inches of rain in 12 hours caused parts of Asheville to flood. Specifically, the area of Biltmore Village which has been known to flood and was part of the 2004 major flood. The Tribune investigates why stormwater drains have not been put into Biltmore Village, almost 12 years later.
February 16, 2016: by Roger McCredie:
City responds to stormwater query; Tribune files documents request re: feesFollowing up on its February 10th article, the City responds to the Tribune's question as to why no stormwater drainage has been put into Biltmore Village - basically, they're still studying the matter
“The city is partnering with the Corps of Engineers and the Division of Water Resources on a flood mitigation project along the Swannanoa. The goal of this project is to reduce flooding along the Swannanoa Valley and in Biltmore Village. This project is currently in the feasibility stage which identifies the specific project to be considered,” Stomwater Department Manager McCray Coates told the Tribune.
March 1, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: City ignores Tribune’s request For stormwater payroll documents
Summary: Tribune requests updated stormwater payroll documents and after two weeks of silence, begins investigation into why their public records requests have been ignored.
"A 2014 analysis by the Tribune, based on those figures, showed that salaries made up approximately 38% of the stormwater department’s budget."  
Tribune is requesting updated payroll documents.



Changing Focus: Connecting the Dots

After months of investigating and digging into the project known as RADTIP (River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project), we've learned two things:

1) We live in the pit of progressive socialism - the idea that in order to achieve whatever ideals set forth by this Council, it's okay to run over laws and private owner's rights. Whether you're a business owner, property owner or real estate owner, beware. This City Council has no trouble bending the rules and laws to take your rights or your property.

2) This City Council, like every other political group has made an example of cronyism and used their positions to pat themselves on the back and put their friends and associates in positions of power through committees and commissions or City projects.

Since the RADIP project is now under "eminent domain" phase, we've decided to change the focus of this website to these two things starting with a recap of 2015:

CITY LETTER #6

City Manager Gary Jackson has cost our City millions of dollars.  His million dollar mistakes include French Broad River, Pack Square, Eagle Street Development, the Stormwater Tax and a city budget which is 7 million in the red. Not to mention the bad hires: the Former Police Chief and a planning director who lasted 2 months. Gary Jackson's budget is a ponzi scheme getting ready to fall. Taxes and fees will sky rocket in the next few years.

Esther Manheimer, Our Mayor, is a eminent domain (confiscation) lawyer. Not only has she inappropriately voted to condemn large tracts of property but she also recommends her own law firm to be used when your property gets confiscated.

Gordon Smith and Cecil Bothwell are two peas in a pod. They are both consumed with power and feathering their own nests. These two slick politicians recently cut a deal in which Cecil backed out of the Commissioner's race and in exchange, he gets to pick Gordon's successor. Gordon Smith gets extra mention for giving his brother-in-law a job in the Eagle Street Development fiasco. Gordon said this wasn't a conflict of interest because the City attorney okayed it. What he neglected to say was the former City Attorney's husband owned the property.

Flash! You can buy New Belgium for 1 billion dollars. Price tag includes a corrupt city government.

Did you know the project director in charge of the Riverfront project, Stephanie Monson Dahl's husband writes for New Belgium? Also, Gabe Quesinberry, who did the Traffic Report for the City showing the Riverside Drive as the worst truck alternative for New Belgium now works for New Belgium as chief in charge of the entire New Belgium construction project?

Also, Brownie Newman, career politician, sits on the AARRC committee and works for FLS Energy, the company which suddenly received $30 million in private investment just when they were laying off employees in early 2014. One of the investment companies is Vision Ridge Partners, an investment company based out of Boulder and also does a lot of work in Fort Collins, specifically, they are the financing partner for a project called "FortZed" of which New Belgium will benefit.  Vision Ridge and New Belgium donate the same amounts to the same people and sit on the same boards. Guess it was lucky Brownie got introduced to them. Not to mention, New Belgium holds their leadership meetings at the offices of FLS.

Then we have our City Attorney, Janice Ashley, who was trying to get a job with New Belgium at the same time she has been handling all the contracts between the City and New Belgium and working on the eminent domain cases impacted by RADTIP which will allow New Belgium to send 18 wheeler trucks alongside the River.

We have a lot of environmental companies in town so it's no surprise that David Tuch's company, Equinox Environmental, should get hired to do some of that $50 million dollar work happening on the River. Are you surprised that his wife is Shannon Tuch, the Development Services Director for the City of Asheville?

With 155 million dollar budget, they just continue to spend and tax hard working business owners, while they prop themselves and their friends and family up. Next time you get your water bill, better known as your new mortgage, look at all the added taxes and there will soon be more.

We will continue to write these letters exposing these corrupt, deceitful politicians till they are voted out. Connect the Dots.

PS, you won't read this in the Asheville Citizen Times. Josh Awtry is too loyal to his former City, Fort Collins, home of New Belgium.

Chris Peterson