During a tense five-hour meeting on Aug. 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners took on a variety of issues, including changes to the county's personnel ordinance, an economic-incentives package, and the date of the next property reappraisal.
Here's a look at some of the highlights:
After a long debate and a public hearing, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a comprehensive personnel ordinance that governs the rules for county employees.
Commissioner Holly Jones cast the lone vote against the measure after attempting to amend it to include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She said that she could not vote for it in good conscience without those additional protections.
Board Chair David Gantt cast the only vote in support of Jones' proposed amendment. But through procedural rules, Vice Chair Bill Stanley tried to prevent board members from having the ability to vote on the amendment; Commissioners Carol Peterson and K. Ray Bailey supported him in that effort. However, with Gantt supporting Jones after consulting with the county's assistant attorney, a vote was allowed to go forward, although it failed 3-2.
In the 4-1 vote, one of the biggest approved changes affects employee longevity pay: The new ordinance bases it solely on employment duration, regardless of when a worker was hired. Amounting to between $100 and 7 percent of an employee's salary, the longevity pay goes up with the number of year's an employee stays with the county. Under the old plan, the amount of longevity pay depended on when the employee was hired, with those starting after February 2011 making a maximum of $300 no matter how long they worked.
Before the changes to the policy take affect, the commissioners will have to hold a second vote, because it was listed as "new business" on the agenda and wasn't passed unanimously. The final vote is scheduled for Aug. 22; no amendments will be allowed.
Betting on New Belgium
Commissioners unanimously approved giving New Belgium Brewing Co. $8.45 million in economic inventive grants.
In exchange, the Fort Collins-based brewery has agreed to invest $175 million in a new production facility on Craven Street at the edge of the River Arts District, eventually hiring 154 workers.
The county grants are in addition to the $3.5 million in incentives and infrastructure improvements being offered by the city of Asheville and a $1 million grant from the state One North Carolina Fund. All in all, the brewer has been given roughly $13 million in incentives from city, county and state governments.
Tax revaluation set for January
Commissioners voted 4–1 to reevaluate property values for tax purposes a year before they're required to by state law. That means county residents should be notified in January of their property's new tax value.
Under North Carolina law, counties must hold such reappraisals at a minimum of every eight years but are allowed to do it more frequently if approved by commissioners. Buncombe County's last valuation was conducted in 2006.
County tax director Gary Roberts requested that the commissioners approve the accelerated revaluation because the real-estate market has undergone major changes since 2006.
Jones cast the only vote against the measure, saying she's worried it could place a bigger tax burden on the working class and poor. Property values are likely to rise for those residents, while falling for the wealthy, she speculated. She said she preferred to give the market another year to balance out.
Meanwhile, Gantt argued that the real-estate market has been so unpredictable the last few years, that it was impossible to know what the values might be without going forward with revaluation process.
Watch video of the meeting in its entirety via YouTube here:
Here are the dispatches via Twitter from the Aug. 7 meeting:
4:35 p.m. MaryCaitlinByrd Follow along with Max and @JakeFrankel: RT @DarkTopo Adding chairs to the Buncombe county commission mtng. Standing room only.
4:43 p.m. mxnews Follow tonight's County Commissioners meeting with @JakeFrankel:. At the meeting? Got questions? Use #avlgov http://t.co/FKNpQEtO
4:47 p.m. Frankel: Commish discussing $8.5 million incentive package for @newbelgium
Aug. 7: 4:48 p.m. DavidForbes: RT @mxnews: Follow @JakeFrankel: and #avlgov for coverage of the Buncombe Commissioners' meeting #avlnews
4:48 p.m. mxnews Follow @JakeFrankel: and #avlgov for coverage of the Buncombe Commissioners' meeting #avlnews
4:50 p.m. Frankel: In exchange the brewery will hire about 150 people and invest $175 million in to new facility on Craven St.
4:51 p.m. Frankel: County Planning Manager Jon Crieghton says the project will generate about $22 million in tax revenue a year.
4:53 p.m. Frankel: Public hearing, Jerry Rice says: I think it's pretty bad we have to depend on beer for our livelihoods.
4:55 p.m. Frankel: Rice: This is supposed to be the bible belt. Our kids lives are more important than beer.
4:56 p.m. Frankel: Yes, he said this sarcastically RT @DarkTopo: Don yelton: Let #avl be known as city of bibles, brews and breasts.
4:57 p.m. Frankel: Yelton also suggested sarcastically that any local topless rallies should take place down by the brewery.
4:58 p.m. Frankel: . @newbelgium CEO Kim Jordan couldn't be here at the meeting but addresses the commissioners via pre-recorded video.
5:00 p.m. Frankel: Jordan: The county's support has been fantastic. We appreciate your faith in us. We're thrilled to be coming to Asheville
5:01 p.m. Frankel: Commissioners unanimously approve the $8.5 million incentives package for @newbelgium #avlgov #avlnews #avlbeer
5:06 p.m. Frankel: Commish now considering a rezoning request to allow a drug rehabilitation center to be built at 15 Tupper Rd in Black Mtn.
5:14 p.m. Frankel: Yes it is, I'm sitting on the floor MT @KOtoday: Full House here at Buncombe County Commission meeting! #avlgov [pic]: http://t.co/4xi7TG5J
5:18 p.m. Frankel: Lisa Landis (@GLoLady): How can you bring in a brewery but not support rehabilitation center? You have to be accountable
5:19 p.m. Frankel: Several people associated with the center argue it would do a valuable public service.
5:20 p.m. Frankel: On the other hand, many neighborhood residents argue the area isn't appropriate, worry about crime, noise, traffic.
5:25 p.m. Frankel: Several recovering drug addicts tout the center as an important opportunity to help them and others get clean.
5:27 p.m. Frankel: Do you want us on the street doing drugs, or in a home, safe, getting treatment, one of them asks rhetorically.
5:32 p.m. Frankel: Commissioner K. Ray Bailey clarifies that the board is only determining zoning designation, not judging value of program.
5:33 p.m. Frankel: Commish Holly Jones says she drove out and looked at site, doesn't think it's appropriate to rezone to public service district
5:38 p.m. Frankel: Board votes 4-1 to deny rezoning request, rehabilitation center won't be allowed to operate at 15 Tupper Rd in Black Mtn.
5:39 p.m. Frankel: Commish Bill Stanley was only dissenting vote: I think people should be allowed to do what they want with their property, he says.
5:48 p.m. Frankel: Commish being briefed on tax collection. The Buncombe rate was 98.84% last year. That's the 2nd best rate in the state. Wake is #1
5:51 p.m. Frankel: Commish unanimously approves tax settlement report.
6:02 p.m. Frankel: Commish now considering report on reappraisal process, used to determine property values for taxation purposes.
6:08 p.m. Frankel: County staff recommends commish approves another reappraisal for Jan. 2013. The last one was in 2006.
6:11 p.m. Frankel: Fairness and equity in local real estate has changed greatly since 2006, says Tax Collector Gary Roberts.
6:13 p.m. Frankel: Counties in NC are required to reevaluate property values at a minimum of every 8 years.
6:19 p.m. Frankel: Public hearing, Jerry Rice: Why didn't commish do revaluation a few years ago when prop values went down? Its not fair to taxpayers
6:22 p.m. Frankel: GOP commish candidate Mike Fryar says he wants the county to stay revenue neutral regardless of property reevaluation
6:23 p.m. Frankel: A public hearing on this issue wasn't on the meeting agenda, btw. Commish Jones requested to hear from the public.
6:28 p.m. Frankel: Jones says she wants to wait another year before doing a revaluation. Jones: this would hurt the working class people of Buncombe
6:30 p.m. Frankel: Jones worries poor will see property values rise and rich will see values fall.
6:32 p.m. Frankel: Board chair Gantt: We don't know what we'll find. It's a weird real-estate market. We should do revaluation and find out. It's fair.
6:34 p.m. Frankel: Board votes 4-1 to do property reappraisal Jan. 1, 2013 to determine tax values. Jones against. #avlgov #avlnews
6:38 p.m. Frankel: County Finance Director Donna Clark discussing debt policy RT @timothypeck: Buncombe County keeps a 15% fund balance. NC requires 8%
6:46 p.m. Frankel: Clark says county's total debt is $325 million, but $140 million of those debts have dedicated revenue sources to pay them back.
6:52 p.m. Frankel: Commish unanimously approves general fund balance policy.
6:55 p.m. Frankel: Wanda Greene now discussing RT @timothypeck: Buncombe County personnel policy.
6:56 p.m. Frankel: Greene: The personnel policy isn't about personal values or opinions.
7:00 p.m. Frankel: Greene: Adding protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity to policy was debated among mgmt
7:01 p.m. Frankel: However, Greene says staff chose not to include it in policy due to an unspecified legal issue.
7:03 p.m. Frankel: Greene tells board they will have to go into closed session if they'd like to discuss details of legal issues related to policy
7:07 p.m. Frankel: About 10 attendees are wearing green #ENDA stickers, want board to add protection from discrimination on sexual orientation/gender
7:10 p.m. Frankel: RT @KOtoday: Info about NC's "Meetings of Public Bodies" Closed Session Criteria for those interested...#avlgov #ncpol http://t.co/EFIQpRue
7:14 p.m. Frankel: Human Resource staffer Lisa Eby talking about personnel policy in general terms, says it's important 4employees to know expectations
7:16 p.m. Frankel: Eby: No form of discrimination is tolerated in Buncombe County employment.
7:17 p.m. Frankel: However, Eby also repeats what Greene says about discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender; not included in policy.
7:20 p.m. Frankel: Eby also alludes 2 unspecific legal concerns, notes county policy protects frm discrimination based on state + fed recognized status
7:25 p.m. Frankel: Proposal reduces waiting time for new hires from 6 months to 3 months to receive health insurance benefits.
7:30 p.m. Frankel: Eby now discussing changes to longevity pay, see details of proposal here: http://t.co/bqLVwxdY
7:37 p.m. Frankel: Eby: Regardless of whether it's directed at a legally protected class of citizen or not, discrimination is not tolerated.
7:42 p.m. Frankel: Jones now following up with Greene on questions she first raised in this email: http://t.co/bqLVwxdY
7:45 p.m. Frankel: Jones: I'm thrilled about the removal of tiers with longevity pay.
7:50 p.m. Frankel: Stanley try's to "call the question," a procedural move to stop Jones' ability to ask questions and speak on issue.
7:51 p.m. Frankel: Lawyer advises board that Jones has right to propose amendments to ordinance before vote.
7:52 p.m. Frankel: She appears very frustrated with Stanley's attempt to cut her off RT @timothypeck: Jones: "This is incredible."
7:54 p.m. Frankel: Jones runs through a long list of amendments to personnel ordinance.
7:57 p.m. Frankel: Greene pushes for vote without hearing from public, notes the personnel ordinance is listed on agenda as "new business"
7:58 p.m. DavidForbes: RT @KOtoday: Per NC law: "General personnel policy issues may not be considered in a closed session." #avlgov http://t.co/bEnPEvp1
7:58 p.m. Frankel: Jones requests public hearing and it's granted despite Greene's objection
8:00 p.m. Frankel: Fryar says he gets "beat up" for having a gay campaign manager but that he doesn't care because he "does a good job"
8:02 p.m. Frankel: Fryar: the only thing we should care about is if a person has a job and if they're doing good at it.
8:04 p.m. Frankel: A pair of county employees speak in favor of updating non-discrimination policy to protect based on orientation/gender.
8:06 p.m. Frankel: Cites law, supports gender amendment RT @timothypeck: Brings up closed session issue. / RT @timothypeck: Karen Oelschlaeger speaks.
8:08 p.m. Frankel: Also thanks Jones for speaking out and allowing public comment MT @timothypeck: Yelton: "I don't care if you make love to a duck."
8:11 p.m. Frankel: Rev. Jasmine Beach Ferrera (sp?) urges adding sexual/gender orientation to ordinance: Fed law is a floor, not a ceiling
8:13 p.m. Frankel: Lindsey Similarly names several other counties in NC that have the protections Jones is proposing
8:16 p.m. Frankel: Asst. County Attorney repeats that their are "legal concerns" about adding gender/orientation protections. No specifics
8:18 p.m. Frankel: Aaron Sarver notes that without change, a county employee can be legally fired for no other reason than they're gay.
8:20 p.m. Brewgasm What are these "legal concerns" about gender equality? Spell it out and stop being condescending.
8:20 p.m. Frankel: Stanley fires back that the county doesn't fire people because they're gay. Sarver: that's great, but we need legal protection
8:21 p.m. Frankel: GOP commish candidates Joe Belcher and Don Guge both say they support adding gender/orientation protections
8:25 p.m. Frankel: RT @timothypeck: Stanley, Peterson voted to call the question. Motion failed.
8:27 p.m. Frankel: Jones makes motion to add gender/orientation to personnel policy. Gantt seconds.
8:28 p.m. Frankel: However, Peterson requests more info on legal ramifications. Bailey wants to know about cost. Board goes in to closed session.
8:37 p.m. Frankel: CORRECTION: I misunderstood commish cand Joe Belcher. He does NOT support amending policy to include orientation/gender protections
8:39 p.m. Frankel: MT @gordondsmith: Cities/Counties in NC that already have orientation/identity non-discrimination policies http://t.co/IDTBJEJ4
8:57 p.m. Frankel: Jones: I don't see any legal or financial issues that should keep us from amending policy.
8:57 p.m. Frankel: Commish back from closed session. Jones says this "is very important civil rights issue."
8:59 p.m. Frankel: Amending county personnel ordinance to include orientation/gender protection fails 3-2. Jones and Gantt vote in minority
9:02 p.m. Frankel: Jones says he won't support ordinance without amendment to protect for orientation/gender.
9:03 p.m. Frankel: County personnel ordinance passes without amendments 4-1 (Jones against.
9:05 p.m. Frankel: CORRECTION: Commish candidate Mike Fryar does NOT support amending ordinance to include orientation/gender protections
9:07 p.m. Frankel: Commish candidate David King says he DOES support amending policy to include orientation/gender protections
9:11 p.m. Frankel: Where the 4 GOP candidates I spoke 2 here stand on amend to protect gender/orientation: King, Guge FOR; Fryar, Belcher AGAINST
9:19 p.m. Frankel: Fryar + Yelton use public comment period 2 make public records requests. Fryar wants emails; Fryar wants all data from commish iPads
9:30 p.m. Frankel: Yes, it will happen at next meeting in 2 weeks RT @gordondsmith: @JakeFrankel: Does the policy require a second reading?
9:41 p.m. Frankel: Also spoke 2 Dem commish candidate Michelle Pace Wood: she says she would've voted AGAINST amend 2 add gender/orientation protection
Aug. 8 1:32 a.m. mxnews Commissioners approve personnel changes, incentives, property appraisal; deny equality protection http://t.co/r3CuImKz
Aug. 8 11:43 AM Frankel: RT @DarkTopo: This video, starting at about 3:14, shows the procedural debate at last night's commish meeting. http://t.co/TiS88FUH
Aug. 8 11:51 AM Frankel: At last night's commish meeting RT @timothypeck: Motion to go into closed session [video] http://t.co/WNiZ7Fw0 @KOtoday