ASHEVILLE - City Council approved its $216.9 million budget June 28 amid voices calling for the defunding of the Asheville Police Department.
A group of about six people interrupted the budget vote in City Hall's Council Chamber with chants of "Defund APD, cops don't need more money."
Despite the brief stall, the budget was passed in a 6-1 vote, with council member Kim Roney as the sole holdout.
The protesters were escorted from the room by Asheville police officers.
After the meeting, APD Capt. Joe Silberman said the situation was peacefully resolved.
The interruption lasted about a minute, but the calls from Asheville residents to decrease funding to the police department have been sounding in some pockets of the community for more than two years.
The fiscal year 2023 budget passed by council was revised in June to include a living wage increase, greater funding for the city's historic reparations initiative and a long-fought-for urban forester position.
The living wage increase will bring all full-time city employees to $17.70 an hour, answering a call from residents who have watched the cost of living skyrocket while wages remain below the national average.
Roney, who voted against the budget, noted the city's living wage increase does not take effect until January. By then, she expects the living wage amount will have increased and the city will be "lagging when we could lead on affordability for our own staff."
"I will not be supporting this budget tonight because I remain committed to affordability, to public safety and my concerns about how we’re doing the budget," Roney said ahead of the vote.
Her other concerns involved council "backing out of commitments" to expand transit and provide emergency shelter for the city's unhoused population, and a desire to further the work being done to reimagine public safety.
“We could make a big difference in addressing public safety in our community if we were to fund and get behind our partners," Roney said.
Feedback offered at a June 14 budget public hearing was strongly in favor of the urban forester position, a $108,000 investment that will enhance staff capacity to implement the city's Tree Canopy Protection Ordinance and answer other environmental calls.
Council members also heard support for the citywide salary increases and repeated frustrations with the budget for the Asheville Police Department.
While all full-time employees will see salaries rise to $17.70 in January, in July the first of the compensation adjustments will be implemented — $5.9 million is dedicated to an increase from the city's current $15 an hour minimum salary to $17 an hour, with all other staff hired before this year to receive a 5% pay increase.
All employees hired during 2022 will receive a 2.5% salary increase.
Though the staff report mentioned that speakers at the public hearing raised concerns about the amount of funding for the police department, it did not provide a response.
The adopted budget includes $30.1 million for the police department, a $1.6 million increase from the estimated actual budget for the current fiscal year. Some residents said a steadily growing budget was antithetical to promises to reimagine Asheville's public safety.
Mayor Esther Manheimer thanked City Manager Debra Campbell, fellow council members and staff for their work on the budget.
She highlighted a number of budget lines, including the $500,000 in funding for reparations and an intention to continue that funding in coming years, as well as the living wage increase, the addition of an urban forester and other positions, efforts to increase affordable housing and various other programs.
The budget recommends no change in the current property tax rate, though there are a number of fee increases for solid waste, stormwater and water.
Manheimer also called out efforts to reimagine public safety, which she has noted before is an ongoing effort.
'Budget for the people'
Outside of the City Council meeting, about a dozen people gathered on the Pack Square amphitheater steps. They drew in chalk and hefted signs — illustrating their collective vision of a united Asheville, with affordable housing, health care and a safe space for all.
Among them were the protesters ushered from the chamber, along with other concerned residents and advocates with the Sunrise Movement Asheville.
Grace Martinez was among those standing on the steps outside.
Though she is regularly in attendance at council meetings, she chose not to go in June 28.
"Going inside is so deeply ineffective," she said. “Because City Council refuses to listen to the needs of the people, we decided that we are going to envision the community as we would like to see it and name our needs.”
Alex Lines, with Sunrise Movement Asheville, also remained outside, holding a sign in the signature Sunrise yellow that read, "budget for the people."
Lines said the group was frustrated with council after seeing the APD budget increase.
"After talking a lot, making a lot of big commitments in 2020 about reducing the police budget but not actually doing anything, it’s clear to us they have had to move past and forget the uprisings of 2020," Lines said. "But we haven’t forgotten."
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email email@example.com or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville council approves $216.9M budget amid calls to defund APD