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RAD budget shortfall explained; questions fly; mayor catches flak
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:55
By JOHN NORTH
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The budget shortfall for improvements in the River Arts District was explained by Asheville city officials during the Council of Independent Business Owners meeting July 14 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

City officials spent about 10 minutes reviewing the situation, after which CIBO members and guests fired questions at them for nearly 20 minutes.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, began the RAD update by thanking state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, for his efforts, noting that “he is right that are some good things happening that aren’t publicized.” She also praised (Rep. Brian) Turner (D-Buncombe) for his efforts. (Both Edwards and Turner had given CIBO a legislative update earlier in the meeting.)

“As you have heard in the news, the bids for this (RAD) project came in very high,” Manheimer told the CIBO crowd.

She noted that, to answer technical questions, she had brought along City Manager Gary Jackson and Jude Dundas, interim Assistant city manager and capital projects.

“We’re trying to provide a palette for private investment,” the mayor added.

“Because of the costs coming in higher than projected, it means future phases will have to be cut... These projects will be part of a future phase as funding becomes available.” Manheimer noted that the next steps include public work sessions and community engagement.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, Asheville resident Shelia Surratt asked if a referendum to measure citizen interest in splitting Asheville into districts for the election of City Council still will be on the ballot in November.

“Yes,” Manheimer said. “It will be on the ballot in November.”

CIBO member Mac Swicegood asserted, “It’s very embarrassing that the RAD cost is so much higher. So when we get into these greenways, which will be so much more expensive,” what will happen with their maintenance?

In response, Manheimer said, “I will say parks and rec maintenance is a problem — not just in good times, but in a recession. Part of the bond referendum is going to go a long way to do that,” regarding Swicegood’s concerns about covering the costs of greenway maintenance.

Jackson, the city manager, added, “All of the infrastructure that gets built… It’s not over-budget. Its a matter of being within budget — and the greenways were not part of the prioritization.”

A man then said that “politics is about listening and getting things done At the last City Council meeting, you said you were shocked at how much the RAD project went over budget.

“We’re seeing construction costs increasing 10 percent annually… My question is...  how did this come about? Was it due to the facts weren’t related to public officials? Or a combination of all of the above?”

“I think your question was how council didn’t know before the meeting,” Manheimer said in response. “The costs were looking higher, but not this dramatic. The bids did come in and they were very dramatic. The main concern was to keep the funding. They figured out the solution.”

 



 


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