Asheville city council approved a 3-month budget Thursday, essentially delaying the decision on whether to cut the city’s police department budget and by how much until September.
The final vote was 5-2, and follows the path council set out earlier this summer when it said it wanted to pass a temporary budget in order to study police department spending. During a marathon council meeting Tuesday which lasted more than six hours public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of cutting the police department budget by 50%. After a week of protests calling for racial justice following the death of George Floyd, the group Black AVL Demands in June called for the 50% cut, with the money then invested in the city’s Black community.
Mayor Esther Manheimer said the two-month time frame between then and when leaders had to pass some kind of budget was too short for lawmakers to reach the 50% goal, even if all council members supported it. "We're talking about a $30-million budget for a department that employs around 250 people," the mayor said during the meeting, held virtually via Zoom due to the pandemic. "It takes a lot of time to figure out how to change, and then how to move in that direction." She added the extra time allows for city staff to study the matter further. Manheimer was joined in voting yes by council members Brian Haynes, Julie Mayfield, Shaneika Smith, and Keith Young.
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and council member Vijay Kapoor cast the no votes. They sought instead for a full one-year budget to be passed, and then have council go back and make adjustments to police department spending throughout the year. In what was likely his last council meeting, Kapoor said even with two additional months to study it his colleagues still wouldn’t likely be able to cut the police department budget 50%. "You will likely need to layoff over 100 officers to do that," Kapoor said before the vote. "Passing a three-month budget, with no realistic chance for making that happen, will set expectations sky high and fall short." Kapoor is resigning his seat on August 8th, as he and his family are moving out of the area. His colleagues on council will choose who fills out the rest of his term. Council hopes to have the next budget - with or without police cuts - ready for a vote for their September 22nd meeting.