The long and the short of it: Buncombe County retools longevity pay

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Aug. 7, 2012 meeting

  • New Belgium to get $8.45 million in incentives
  • Commissioners approve early property revaluation

During a tense five-hour Aug. 7 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners tackled various issues, including changes to the county's personnel ordinance, an economic-incentive package and the date of the next property reappraisal.

Here are some highlights:

Up close and personnel

After a lengthy debate and public hearing on the matter, the commissioners approved a comprehensive personnel ordinance on a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Holly Jones cast the lone opposing vote after unsuccessfully trying to add a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Without those additional protections, she said, she couldn’t in good conscience support it.

Jones’ amendment, however, faced strong opposition, with only board Chair David Gantt supporting it. Vice Chair Bill Stanley, backed by Commissioners Carol Peterson and K. Ray Bailey, tried to use procedural rules to block a public hearing on the matter and even prevent the board from voting on the amendment. But after consulting with Assistant County Attorney Curt Euler (filling in for County Attorney Michael Frue, who was out of town) and holding a short closed session, the vote was allowed.

One of the biggest changes in the new ordinance concerns longevity pay. It will now be based solely on employment duration, regardless of when a worker was hired. Amounting to between $100 and up to 7 percent of an employee's salary, the annual payment increases the longer an employee stays with the county. Formerly, the amount depended on when the employee was hired; for those starting after February 2011, it was capped at $300.

Jones, an outspoken critic of that approach, hailed the change, though it wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of the LGBT protections. "I think this is a very important civil rights issue," she declared, adding, "I approve of all the other items."

Peterson, however, said the ordinance “makes people want to come to Buncombe County to work, and be proud to do that, and be invested in county government and the good work that our folks do every day.”

Due to procedural rules, the ordinance must pass a second vote on Aug. 22 to gain approval; no amendments will be allowed.

Betting on New Belgium

Commissioners unanimously approved giving New Belgium Brewing Co. $8.45 million in economic-incentive grants over a 10-year period.

In exchange, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery plans to invest $175 million in a new production facility on Craven Street in the River Arts District and eventually hire up to 154 workers.

The county money comes in addition to $3.5 million in incentives and infrastructure improvements from the city of Asheville and a $1 million grant from the state’s One North Carolina Fund.

Once the brewery is operating at full capacity, it’s expected to generate about $22 million per year in local and state tax revenues, Planning Director Jon Creighton told the board.

Several commissioners praised New Belgium’s anticipated economic impact. And in a prerecorded video message, company CEO Kim Jordan thanked them, saying, "The county's support has been fantastic."

Not everyone who spoke during a public hearing agreed, however.

"Growing up in the Bible Belt, I think it's pretty bad we have to depend on beer for our livelihood," said Candler resident Jerry Rice. "Our kids’ lives are worth more than beer."

Tax revaluation notices coming in January

Commissioners voted 4-1 to reappraise county property for tax purposes before they're required to do so. County residents will be notified of their property's new tax value in January.

State law requires counties to reappraise property at least every eight years, but they can do it more frequently with commissioner approval. Buncombe County's last valuation was in 2006. Tax Director Gary Roberts asked the commissioners to approve the accelerated revaluation because the real estate market has undergone major changes since then.

Jones cast the only vote against the measure, fearing it could place a bigger tax burden on poor and working-class residents. Their property values would probably rise, she said, while those for the wealthy would fall. Jones preferred to give the market another year to balance out.

Gantt, meanwhile, argued that because the real estate market has been so unpredictable in recent years, it’s impossible to know what the results might be without scheduling a revaluation.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at 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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