Mum’s the word: Public gives little feedback on Buncombe budget plan

Time for school? One of only a handful of attendees to speak at a public hearing on the budget, Candler resident Michelle Pace Wood asked commissioners to consider funding a new intermediate school in Enka.
Time for school? One of only a handful of attendees to speak at a public hearing on the budget, Candler resident Michelle Pace Wood asked commissioners to consider funding a new intermediate school in Enka.

Buncombe County commissioners held a June 4 public hearing on their $337 million budget proposal, but they didn’t hear much from the public. Only a few residents stood up to the podium to make their views known during the short session.

The plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for raising the property tax rate by roughly 15 percent to cover a drop in property values, increased funding requests and unfunded federal mandates (see “Paying the Cost,” June 5 Xpress). And at the hearing, Candler resident Jerry Rice, an outspoken regular meeting attendee, called that an “ungodly” amount.

“We’re going to feel the pain from this tax increase much worse than you might think,” he asserted.

Other attendees expressed no complaints about the proposed rate of 60.4 cents per $100 of property value (the current rate is 52.5 cents). Instead, speakers asked commissioners to fund projects they’re involved in.

Candler resident Michelle Pace Wood, who ran for commissioner in District 3 last year, said she was there to speak on behalf of Equal Education for Enka, a community group of more than 200 residents.  She asked the commissioners to consider financing a new intermediate school in the Enka district in coming years.

Meanwhile, Carl Silverstein, executive director of the Southern Highlands Conservancy, urged the commissioners to include $242,000 in the budget for easements to protect land from development.

In response, commissioners remained mostly silent. Commissioner Joe Belcher was the sole member of the board to share his thoughts. Praising the teamwork of staff and commissioners who helped draft the plan, he called the responsibility of covering millions in unfunded mandates “a heavy lift.”

“Am I happy with everything? No,” he added, maintaining that he and his colleagues will continue looking for ways the county can cut costs once they approve a final budget June 24.

“We will continue working on saving money,” he said. “We’ll work on it everyday.”

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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